If Astros fans were told that Houston would score nine runs on Monday, many would have bet good money that their team would have won the Labor Day game in Oakland. Instead, Houston dropped a 10-9 decision, continuing the troubles the team has had on the road in 2015. While playing to a sizzling record of 48-24 at Minute Maid Park, the Astros dropped to 27-40 on the road after last night's loss in Oakland.
Meanwhile, the Rangers continue to nip at the Astros heels after a win in Seattle. Houston's division lead has dropped to one game and a flight back to Houston won't happen until next Thursday. In the mean time, Houston will finish a three-game set in Oakland before playing three in Anaheim this weekend and finally a vital four-gamer in Texas, Monday through Thursday.
Today's Starting Nine question (Note: Question was asked before Tuesday's loss in Oakland):
Where do you think the Astros will be in the AL West standings when this road trip is over?
I think they'll be in second place but engaged in a dogfight to win the division. But honestly, they've been surprising me all season so I'm probably a bit foolish picking against them here.
Why on earth are we worried about a Rangers team that doesn't even have a positive run differential again? Smoke and mirrors. That's what the Rangers are surviving on. Smoke and mirrors.
.500 road trip and a two game lead at the end of this stretch of road games.
I think the Astros will be in first place, with about the same lead they have now (2 or 3 games, depending on the day). The Astros showed in Monday's loss that they're capable of scoring runs on the road. Both the Astros and the Rangers have difficult schedules over the next week or so, but it comes down to pitching for me. I'll take the staff headlined by Keuchel, Kazmir, Fiers, McHugh, McCullers, and one of the best bullpens in the AL over one headed by Hamels, Gallardo, and one of the best bullpens in the AL. Holland, Lewis, Perez, and Martinez just don't scare me at all. That's not to take away from the Rangers' ridiculous August. But their 19-9 record in August came with a 4.42 starters FIP that was 4th-worst in the American League. That doesn't foretell a sustained winning percentage of almost .700, or even close to it.
Hitting-wise, I like the Astros' lineup better, and I especially like the Astros' lineup against Rangers starters better than I do the Rangers' lineup against Astros starters. That series will help determine who's in first place in two weeks, but I give the Astros the edge. Finally, the Astros' August BABIP of .277 was second-lowest in the majors, while the Rangers' .310 was above average. A correction seems possible.
In summary, I don't believe the Rangers can sustain their August winning pace, and the Astros are capable of hitting better on the road than they did earlier in the season. And so, I think the standings at the top of the AL West will not change meaningfully during this Astros road trip.
My gut says they'll keep losing on the road, because I'm human and my mind naturally wants to make that assumption based on past events.
But I think the Astros are actually under-performing this season. As of this writing, they're 75-63, but their Pythagorean W/L record is 81-57. If we were actually 81-57 right now, we'd be five games up on the Rangers and it would take a pretty big crash for them to pass us up. By the way, the Rangers have a 65-71 Pythagorean W/L record, thanks to being out-scored by their opponents this year.
So...I think we'll be okay. Math and logic say we'll be okay, but of course, that's all on paper. It could go either way. But I can't bring myself to just ignore the numbers and logic and predict something counter to it. Especially when I consider our recent games. We failed to sweep the Yankees because of that one game in which we couldn't score even one run. We scored nine runs last night and lost by one. Springer was literally inches from saving the game with a catch, and Altuve was literally inches away from winning a game with a walk-off hit, in the game we just lost to the Twins on Saturday. The A's aren't a good team. The Angels aren't a good team. The Rangers are a good team, but not a great team. I mean, logic says we should be okay. But you have to play the games.
Both times I've been on the podcast I've said that I don't see how the Rangers could catch the Astros. Like David said, there's a bunch of smoke and mirrors with their performance this year. That being said, I full expect the Rangers to now overtake the Astros because that how Houston sports work.
I think the Astros will still be in first place by a game or two, because the Rangers aren't that good of a team. That being said, I fully expect the Rangers to win the series against the Astros, because the Rangers own them.
Since the Lone Star Series started in 2001, the Rangers own a 75-47 record against the Astros, good for a .615 winning percentage, easily Texas' best winning percentage against any opponent with a sample of over 100 games during that stretch (for reference the next highest winning percentage the Rangers have with a similar sample size is against the Indians, with a .545 winning percentage).
Texas hitting also owns Astros pitching, as the Rangers have scored a total of 672 runs in those 122 games, good for an average of about 5.5 runs a game.
Maybe a big part of this discrepancy is that the Rangers played so many games against the Astros during the rebuild, but even this year the trend is holding up, as the Astros are 4-8 and have given up 60 runs in 12 games to the Rangers.
Slice it any way you want, but the Rangers own the Astros. The Lone Star Series might have been the worst thing to happen to the Astros' win-loss record since Albert Pujols, who thank God doesn't play for the Rangers.
My guess...the Astros have approximately the same lead. The lead feels slim, but I would much rather be in the Astros' shoes than the Rangers'. The Rangers may tie the Astros' wins at some point, but are likely to fall back again. It's just difficult to consistently gain that kind of ground. Not saying it can't happen, obviously, but the odds are on the Astros' side.