When the Astros walk off the field after the last game of this road trip from Heck (not as bad as Hell, but not as good as Heaven), they will be exactly 4 weeks and 26 games from the end of the season. They have been a team stuck in neutral for the last two months. Since July 7, they have been a very so-so 25-23. Not bad enough to lose their lead in the AL West and not good enough to put the A’s and Mariners out of reach in the rearview mirror.
What will the next four weeks bring?
Home Cooking – The Astros will play 15 of their last 26 games at Minute Maid Park. On the season, they have won 62% of their games at home and only 55% of their games on the road, so theoretically (and isn’t this all speculation), they should benefit from playing more at home than on the road.
Home Division Cooking – The Astros play 20 of their last 26 games against AL West opponents. So far this season, they are 8-4 against the Angels, 9-7 against the M’s, 11-4 against the Rangers and 9-4 against the A’s for a terrific 36-19 record against the West. As with stocks, past performance is no guarantee of future gains, but they should feel positive playing the devils they know.
The Good vs. the Bad – The Astros struggles against the lowly teams of the MLB has been well documented, while they have been solid against good clubs. There is no real advantage here. They play two dregs teams down the stretch – the 45-92 D’Backs and the 47-80 Rangers. They play three very good clubs, including the best in the AL with the 86-50 Rays, 74-62 A’s and 74-62 M’s. And they play the right down the middle 68-68 Angels, also in this last stretch.
Speaking of the Last Stretch – Everyone has been looking at the last nine games on the schedule for a long time. That includes the home, and away series with Oakland sandwiched around three home games against the excellent Tampa Bay Rays. If the Astros put their pedal to the metal, it may not matter, but this team has had trouble playing sustained excellence since the All Star break.
The gut feeling is that the Astros will figure a way to win the West again. But they will have a tough time doing it if they don’t show more consistency in all aspects of the game going forward.