Heading into the three-game set with St. Louis at Minute Maid Park starting tonight, Houston will have ten more series left in the season.
Ten more different combinations of teams and ballparks before the Astros run out of baseball to play in 2010. I'm a little more melancholy about that than I was back in April or early May. If nothing else, this is becoming a fun team to watch again.
But, the really important question is how might the Astros do in those 10 series, those 32 games. Let's look at how the schedule breaks down:
- The Astros will play three series against the NL West - a three-game series at Arizona this weekend, hosting the Dodgers for four games next weekend and a four-game set in Washington starting September 20.
- Half of those 32 games will be at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros are one game below .500 for the season. The Astros will also 11 games below .500 on the road this season.
- Houston has 21 of those 32 games against the NL Central. The Astros have a 33-24 record against the rest of the NL Central this season, but they also will play six of those 21 against Cincinnati, who they are 2-7 against this season.
- In fact, the Astros only have losing records against Arizona, Los Angeles and Cincinnati the rest of the way. They were 0-2 against LA and 1-3 against Arizona, while taking three of four against Washington.
- Since the All-Star break, the Astros have outscored opponents by 14 runs. That's a marked contrast to the 123 runs they were outscored by in the first half of the season. Small sample size notwithstanding, Houston's offense and pitching has been dramatically better in the past two months.
- The Astros are also 42-37 since June 1st. That's a winning percentage of .531 and if they had kept that pace up all season, they'd be tied with St. Louis in second place in the Central. They are still minus-8 runs during that stretch, but have a positive-11 run differential this month with two games to play.
All this points to Houston being better in September than they were in the first-half. Cool Standings projects them to finish with 73 wins, which means they'd take 14 of those 32 games to finish the season. That would also give them the ninth pick in the 2011 draft. But, because of a compensation pick for Arizona, they'd be bumped down to 10th. If they win at the .541 clip they've played at since the first of July, the Astros would finish with 17 wins down the stretch and 76 wins overall. That would move their draft pick down to 11th and would put them in a tie with Milwaukee at the end of the season.
To finish at .500 for the season, Houston needs to win 22 of those 32 games, which is a winning percentage of .687. I'm very skeptical that could happen, obviously. Basically, they could only lose one game per series from now to the end of the season. Do you see that happening. Moreover, what are the benefits of finishing at .500 by the end of the season if they're not in the playoff hunt? This team will probably have a slightly different feel after a winter of change, including a possible trade of Carlos Lee (I can dream, can't I?). Would winning big down the stretch mean anything to these young players, or is it enough to see them play solid baseball the rest of the way?