On Friday, the Astros enter the last 10 days and nine games of the regular season with a seven-game lead over the surging Seattle Mariners and nine over the falling Oakland A’s. Much needs to happen in those ten days leading to what is hopefully a successful end game. Let’s look at the activities that need to occur soon.
Make the Playoffs. I’m not sure if stranger things have happened, but the city of Houston has seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory many times, so this is the base need. The Astro need to win 3 of their remaining 9 games. Any win over the A’s in the 6 they will play against them ends Oakland’s shot at the AL West. Or even if they lost all six to Oakland, a single win over the Rays in that three-game set would eliminate the A’s. With the red hot M’s, they need any combo that adds up to 3 of Astro wins and M’s losses. The Astros also have a five-game lead over the Yanks for the second wild card, but we are not thinking about that….yet.
Grab a Playoff Seed. Assuming the Astros do take the AL West, they then have to get seeded into the playoffs. With the 99 win Giants and 98 win Dodgers way ahead of the 91 win Astros, the overall MLB best record is not coming to Houston. They are currently 3 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the top spot in the AL. Since they play the Rays 3 games at Minute Maid next week – it is possible to catch them, and they already lead the season series 2-1 over the Rays. Catching and passing the Rays would allow the Astros to play the one game play-in winner from the Wild Card teams, currently, the Yankees and Red Sox, though the M’s, Blue Jays and marginally the A’s all have a shot at one of those spots. If the Astros do not catch the Rays, they will play the White Sox in the first round of the playoffs, and they are five games up on the Sox at this point. Hanging on to that lead will give them home field over the White Sox in that round.
Get the real Michael Brantley back. Brantley had been on a pace to take the AL batting crown, and then his body started holding him back as his stats slid and he was shut down. Brantley hasn’t played in almost 2 weeks, and yesterday, Manager Dusty Baker said his recovery had “hit a lull” and was not progressing as quickly as they hoped. With so little time before the playoffs, this is not good news as Brantley has little time to get back and little time to get his eye back. He is a prime left-handed hitter when well, and he is missed.
The Playoff Makeup (Positional Players). Let’s assume when the Astros go from 28 man rosters to 26 for the playoffs that 13 of those spots will be positional players. Who will they be? Let’s assume Brantley is back (if not, that changes the narrative). Brantley, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, Kyle Tucker and Jake Meyers would be a normal front nine. Behind them are the threesome of Jason Castro, Aledmys Diaz and Chas McCormick. That means or should mean that the last spot on the playoff roster comes down to Jose Siri and Marwin Gonzalez. Siri has youth, speed and power, and Marwin has the experience and the flexibility to play all over the place. Since Siri is cooling off after a torrid start, it would seem that Marwin has the step up here.
The Playoff Makeup (Pitchers). This gets complex, but in all probability, this will consist of 4 starters and 9 relievers as the ALDS has the first four games spread over five days. The four starters will likely be…..Zack Greinke (even though he has slumped lately), Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia. Jose Urquidy could be used in place of Garcia, with either going tandem out of the bullpen with the other or with some other short-lasting starter. The status of Jake Odorizzi, currently on the IL? We will talk about that in a minute.
The eight bullpen spots beyond the Garcia or Urquidy spot? Ryan Pressly, Kendall Gravemen, Ryne Stanek, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier and Yimi Garcia would seem to sew seven of those spots up. I know Raley is a contentious pick, but he is scoreless in his last nine appearances and has not let any of his four inherited runners score in that time. In his previous 18 appearances going back to the end of July, he has a 1.10 ERA, and the opponents are only slashing .151 BA/ .224 OBP/ .451 OPS and only let one of 6 inherited runners score. That leaves one spot for Odorizzi, Phil Maton, Josh James and on the very outside, Pedro Baez. Odorizzi seemed to have thin skin when he was not being used as he thought. Maton appears to blow up at inopportune times. James has looked good in a small sample the last few times out. Baez was good before he got hurt, but it does not feel like he will get back in time to show he is solid going forward. The brain may lean towards James here. But if they leave Odorizzi off the first playoff roster, will he be useless if needed in future rounds?
This will be a fascinating short time leading into the playoffs. What does your Astros to-do list look like?