"It ain't over 'til it's over" said the late, great Yogi Berra. That seems to be the way this season is headed for the Houston Astros.
Still 2.5 games out of a playoff spot and in the midst of a 13-game stretch against division leaders, the Astros are clinging to dreams of the 2016 playoffs. They aren't alone though, as the field for the AL Wild Card spots is pretty crowded.
To simplify things, I'm going to consider the Yankees, Royals, and Mariners to be 2nd-tier contenders. They are still close enough to have a shot, but don't have the talent to leapfrog all the other teams in my opinion. The Yankees actually have a better record than the Astros by half a game at the moment, but they still have 15 games left against Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore plus another 3 against the Dodgers. Finally, this exercise is much less complicated with fewer teams so just go with me on this.
Boston currently leads their division by a game over Toronto, which has a one game advantage over Baltimore, which has a one game advantage over Detroit. Those 4 teams still have games remaining against each other as shown in the following table.
To examine the strength of each team's remaining 2016 schedule, I looked at the remaining games for each team and split them by difficulty level.
|Games against contenders||13||9||13||3||0|
|Games against other division leaders||0||0||0||7||6|
|Games against 2nd-tier contenders||7||7||3||3||6|
|Games against non-contenders||3||7||7||10||10|
The Astros don't have any games remaining against the other contenders and Detroit only has 3, but they're also the only two teams with games remaining against other division leaders. Then again, they also play more games against non-contending teams (Minnesota, Oakland, Anaheim) than the other contenders. Finally, they are the two teams with the most ground to make up heading into the final stretch. Ok so... what do we make of all this?
Well, I've already split up the remaining games for you and provided each team's current record. So feel free to go through and predict how many wins each team will have at the end of the season. Here is my baseline prediction:
|Wins against contenders||7||5||5||2||0|
|Wins against other division leaders||0||0||0||3||3|
|Wins against 2nd-tier contenders||4||4||2||2||4|
|Wins against non-contenders||2||5||5||7||7|
|Total wins at the end of the season||91||91||88||89||88|
In general, I tried to assume similar winning percentages for all contenders across a given difficulty level (i.e. I assumed they would all win the vast majority of their games against non-contenders). For the games against each other, I assumed Baltimore would only win 1 of 3 against Detroit, 1 of 3 against Toronto, and 3 of 7 against Boston. I assumed that Toronto and Boston would split their 6 games with 3 wins each.
As you can see, this would result in the Astros missing the playoffs. However, I said this was my baseline prediction. That's because most of these aren't earth-shattering predictions. I actually believe that 88 wins will be enough to at least force a tie-breaker game. It just seems like out of 5 teams, one of them will probably fall into a slump over the next few weeks, rather than all 5 playing relatively good baseball for the final 3+ weeks of the season.
I can also see the Astros winning 5 of their last 6 games against Seattle instead of the 4 that I predicted above, especially if Seattle is even farther behind in the wild card race at that point. Winning 8 of their last 10 games against non-contenders doesn't seem too far-fetched either. Those 10 games are made up of 3 against Oakland, whom the Astros swept a week ago, and 7 against the Angels, whom the Astros have won 11 in a row against.
|Wins against contenders||6||5||6||2||0|
|Wins against other division leaders||0||0||0||2||3|
|Wins against 2nd-tier contenders||3||4||2||2||4|
|Wins against non-contenders||2||5||5||7||8|
|Total wins at the end of the season||89||91||89||88||89|
Toronto will win the AL East, while the Red Sox, Orioles, and Astros will be in a three-way tie for the two wild card spots. Due to their records against each other this season (including what I assumed for Boston and Baltimore's remaining games), the Red Sox and Astros would play a game to determine the top AL Wild Card. The loser would then play the Orioles to determine the second AL Wild Card.
The 2016 season has not gone as many expected for the Houston Astros, but if they can get to the playoffs, it's a whole new season.