As of Tuesday, the Astros maintain a 3 1/2 game over the A’s for first place in the AL West. FanGraphs indicates that Houston currently has a 91.6 percent chance to win the division for the fourth time in five seasons. Overall postseason odds are at 95.1 percent. There isn’t anything particularly astounding about those figures. Everything is progressing as reasonably hoped for back in Spring Training.
The main concern is whether the Astros can maintain this lead for the remainder of the season. Consider this: The team has an 18-16 record since the All-Star Game, which is neither horrible nor great. Average, if you will. From a Houston perspective, the most confounding aspect about this season is how well this club plays against clubs at or above a .500 record (45-27, best in MLB) compared to clubs with a sub-.500 record (28-25, 20th in MLB). Take their performance against the AL Central as a prominent example of this strange trend, as noted by Brian McTaggart of MLB.com last night on Twitter.
Astros vs. AL Central defies logic:— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) August 24, 2021
11-3 against White Sox (5-2), Indians (6-1)
6-13 against Tigers (2-5), Royals (1-4) and Twins (3-4)
Baseball has a funny way of balancing things out over a 162-game season. In theory, anyway. The Astros have an 80-45 record based on the number of runs scored and allowed this season for what it is worth. For additional context in the AL West, the A’s actual record (70-56) exactly matches their pythag. The Mariners, however, have a plus-11 win differential between their actual (68-58) and pythag (57-69). Per Baseball-Reference, the Astros’ negative-7 differential between their actual and pythag records only trails the Marlins and Blue Jays, both at negative-8.
Alas, in a season where there is stiff competition atop the AL in late August, their recent play isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. It represents a lost opportunity to gain some breathing room in the standings. While the Astros ultimately didn’t obtain a larger lead over their division rival, none was lost since the All-Star break. Thankfully, Oakland has also posted an 18-16 record during the same time period.
It appears more likely that their final nine games of the season — which occur against the A’s (6) and Rays (3) — will play a large role in determining this season’s finale. But there is ample opportunity to gain some separation in the AL West between now and then as the Astros have a relatively softer schedule remaining in the interim. Of course, I didn’t think this club would fold as they did against the Twins and Royals in recent weeks.