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Starting Nine: Are the 2016 Astros a playoff team?

TCB staff gets right to the point with Astros.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

The 2016 Astros started poorly, rebounded, and have found rock bottom once again. After Houston dropped two of three against the Rangers, the Astros have fallen back into third place in the AL West. Which brings up the question:

Are the 2016 Astros a playoff team? Why or why not?

Alex

That is a mean question, Ryan. One that I don't want to answer for fear of accusations of being negative, but with the commentariat as it is, it probably should not complain.

No, I don't think the Astros will make the playoffs, probably because they can't stop getting injured after having been lucky all year. Will they outplay the Rangers from here on out? Probably, our team is a little better than theirs. But the Mariners are good, the Red Sox are good, the Blue Jays are good, and the Tigers are good. It will be difficult for the Astros to outplay three of them, and while it's certainly possible, it's less likely than not that they will do so.

Clack

Probably not. It's an uphill battle, but there is a reasonable possibility. The Astros just have to play hard, try to win as many games as they can, and see where it ends up. All it takes is a sustained hot streak sometime in the next 30 days, and the odds will look differently. It's now a 3-way competition for the division title, and the Rangers are no sure thing--but it could be the Mariners rather than the Astros who benefit if the Rangers stumble. That's the crux of the Astros' long odds: they have to outperform multiple teams to compete for either the WC or division. I'm interested to see how the team performs when Gurriel makes it to the majors later this month. On the one hand, I hate to put the "savior" pressure on a Cuban ballplayer facing the majors for the first time. But, still, it would be nice if he could energize the team down the stretch. As Yogi said, "It ain't over til it's over."

Joshua

I'd like to fire this question into the sun, however, I'll give my opinion anyway. I don't believe the Astros make the playoffs this year. Barring a (vomits) Rangers-esque comeback by the Astros, I think we miss the playoffs entirely.

The teams in the wildcard spots continue to play well enough to keep us at arms length. The Rangers continue to defy the odds thanks to the Astros' bats going cold at the most inconvenient times. Let's put it this way - we scored one run on Lucas Harrell despite the numerous runners on base with less than two outs. That is how impossibly lucky the Rangers have been all year long.

This is probably the most frustrating season since the beginning of the Luhnow regime. We've experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the span of a few weeks. However, the future indeed looks very bright. For now, let's take a deep breath and remind ourselves that baseball is only a game for us and not our profession.

Alex (Sent at 10:08 AM)

After three really negative answers, I'm awaiting Chris's "well, of course, they'll make the playoffs" and point out the stats that we, in our sadness, have ignored.

Chris (Sent at 10:11 AM)

I am reminded how young this team is, and how total the rebuild had to be to get to this point. The Red Sox are good again after a short stint in the doldrums. But they could rebuild around a preexisting core of players still near their prime. They also had decent assets that they traded away or turned into comp picks. And even still, they are fighting for a playoff spot from second place.
The Astros' rebuild is still unprecedented, though the Braves and Phillies appear to be emulating them. Not even the Brewers had so far to come.

The Astros are more like the pre-playoff Royals. The talent is there, but it takes a long time for that to percolate into a consistent contender. I'm retrospect, once it became clear that this was essentially a three-man offense, fans (myself included) began to place too much hope on unlikely players. Correa wouldn't have a sophomore slump. McCullers would stay healthy. White. Reed. Bregman. Our expectations were unrealistic despite a hundred years of examples showing that major leaguers rarely become consistent impact players before part way through their second or third full seasons in the majors.

This philosophical rambling is to say that because of their talent, the Astros perhaps have a better shot at securing at least a wild-card spot than many of the teams ahead of them. But because of their inexperience, smarter money would be looking toward 2017 instead of 2016.

Perhaps the Astros knew that already. Not conceding, but recognizing probabilities and the time required for the development of young players. And that's why the quiet deadline.

Alex 

Three minutes, y'all.

Jason

Nothing would surprise me, to be honest, but statistically, they're probably not going to make the playoffs this year.

However, as far as I'm concerned, they never needed to.

I've made the comically inept comparison between this season and 1995 more than once (coming off a great season that didn't end the way we wanted it to, lots of young stars blossoming into powerhouse players, and yet, fell short of the playoffs in a "growth" year where our team was still learning how to really win together) and, even though it's laughably easy to nitpick the comparison to death, I think the broad strokes of the idea are worth remembering. I don't think the front office did anything other than what it should have done this year, and I don't think we're wasting any time in our competitive window, like so many Astros fans do.

I think we're teaching our young roster - the players that matter and will continue to matter are young - what pressure and expectations are like. I think that a lot of these talented young men (Correa and Bregman and Lance McCullers leap to mind, but there are others) have mostly sailed through their baseball careers as forces of nature by and large. That's not to say that they haven't worked their butts off every step of the way, and that's not to say they haven't struggled at all - actually, it seems almost like the Astros require some modicum of struggling and successful adjustment to be apparent as a contingency of achieving promotion, in many or most cases - but rather to highlight that struggling under the bright lights, and feeling like you let your teammates and your city down, is an entirely different scope of team building. It's a fire they won't all emerge from, but it's also one that almost all great, lasting teams (including the Astros from 1996-2006) are forged in.

David

Here's something you probably haven't thought about with the offense struggling: Minute Maid Park has become a pitcher's haven. Baseball Reference has a handy tool called "Ballpark Factors," which looks at run-scoring environments and compares them to league averages. Minute Maid Park, that bandbox when it came into existence, has steadily become more pitcher-friendly over the years, but no more than this season. Currently, MMP has identical batting and pitching park factors of 96 over the last three years.

For reference, Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, has a three-year park factor of 95 for both. So, basically, Minute Maid has become just as pitching-friendly as one of the most notorious bats suppressing parks in the game.

It gets worse in the one-year sample. MMP is currently at a 90 park factor for both batting and pitching this year. That's much lower than noted pitcher's park Petco Field (home of the Padres) and lower than those Dodger Dogs in L.A. can take a team. In fact, the only park that can rival Houston's one-year park factor this season is Oakland. Bet you don't think of Houston and Oakland in the same breath of park effects, huh?

While that can explain some of Houston's struggles offensively, especially at home, much of it is simply bad luck. The third-best hitter on the team went on the DL with a hamstring injury. The best prospect in baseball hits the ball hard but hits it right at the defense. The best player in Cuba won't be ready until there're about six weeks left in the season.

Teams have made up six or seven games in six weeks, but it's not easy and usually takes luck being on their side. The Astros don't appear to have that.

They do, however, have the pitching to spare. As dismal as this weekend was, there were highlights. Keuchel looked like an ace again. Joe Musgrove looked up to the task of filling in as "ace-in-waiting" for LMJ. Astros pitcher leads the league in strikeouts since July 25, by the way (tip of the hat to Evan Drellich for THAT stat). Heck, even the offense showed one great sign. Alex Bregman went 4-for-10 on Saturday and Sunday. If some of his hard-hit balls start falling in, the offense should see some help.

What was the question again? Oh, right. AreIs the Astros making the playoffs?

Well, they have about a 10 percent chance as of Monday morning. That feels about right, too. This team is snakebit and hurt and hasn't gotten a bounce to go their way since that fateful inning against the Royals last year. Despite all that, past performance rarely predicts future luck. Anything could happen. I'd give the Astros a 1-in-10 chance of getting things turned around and making a run.

Brian

They needed to sweep the Rangers. They couldn't even beat Lucas Harrell.

They won't win the division, Texas is just too luck and they made big moves while the Astros didn't. They might sneak into the Wild Card spot, but I don't know. They can't hit and they're injured right now, and I'm still not completely sold on the rotation, and McCullers down is so huge. My gosh, did you know Seattle passed us again last night? Remember the Yankees, who sold their best hitter and two-thirds of their killer bullpen? They're only one game behind us in the Wild Card race.

So...no, I guess I don't believe we will anymore. Win six or seven in a row and I might believe again.

Blake

Am I the only one who am not concerned about this year too much. The plan wasn't really about this year or else Luhnow would have really been all in on trade pieces, instead, he was looking for deals if they were to be had. He even neglected to trade for a LOOGY, which was arguably our biggest need.

So to answer Ryan's question, I don't think we were meant to be one, despite the results from last year. I think they took a look at how bad we were at the start of the year and decided we needed more time to transition with our wave of talent. We still need time for the young guys to get accumulated to MLB pitching or hitting. Correa, Bregman, Gurriel, Kemp, Tucker, Reed, White, Feliz, Devenski, Hoyt, Musgrove. That's a lot of young players we need to step up in one year. I think this year was about getting more experience and if the chips fell the right way we would have been playoff bound. But despite a lot going wrong we are right there in the Wild Card spot with a young roster, we are primed for success next year and beyond. Plus with potential FA leaving we will have another potential for a large impactful draft class despite drafting similar to last years spot.

I think this winter will be crazy for the Astros, we need a veteran RF or CF depending on who is available and if they want to use Springer in CF. Resign Castro or play defensive roulette with Gattis (although he has been better than I had expected by a great margin). A LOOGY as mentioned above and probably another impactful starting LHP to add to the rotation.

I look at this year and last year as signs the Astros are trending up with no signs of slowing, call me in three years if they haven't made the playoffs or lost in the first round each year.

Alex

Oh, I totally agree with 2017 being the target date for the sustained competition. Doesn't mean that it doesn't suck to root for a team with World Series aspirations that royally screws up (or is just plain unlucky).

Billy

Yes, they will still make the playoffs. Winning the division is a long shot, but they will at least win a wild card.

We were the hottest team in baseball for about 2 months and then what happened? The top prospect in baseball got off to a terrible start at the plate, the injury bug that we had avoided all season came to bite all at once, and we played some really good teams in Detroit, Toronto, and the notfromTexas Rangers (Yankees aren't too shabby either). Still, most of those games were very close. The schedule doesn't get much easier for the rest of August (after the Twins of course), but Bregman has been getting much better results, players are getting healthier, and Yulieski Gurriel is hitting .381 including a grand slam in his first 6 professional games in America.

Outside of the Detroit series, our pitching has still been very good over the last couple weeks (2.5 runs allowed per 9 innings against NYY, TOR, and TEX). With all the talent on this team and the impending addition of Gurriel, I just cannot write this team off at only 4 games back in the wild-card race with 51 games still left to play.

Nathan

The division is looking less and less likely by the day, but I am with Billy on this one. The wild card race is crowded, but with Baltimore and Cleveland holding small divisional leads the Astros need to outplay only three of Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore, Toronto, Boston, and Detroit. If the Astros take care of their own business, Seattle shouldn't be an issue and with the AL East having to play each other a ton down the stretch I see two of those teams finding themselves just outside the playoff picture come October. Put me down for Baltimore and Boston missing the playoffs with the Astros and Cleveland facing off in the wild card game. Not super thrilled about facing one of Cleveland's trio of aces on the road in a winner takes all game, but that is currently how I see it playing out.