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Notes on the Stretch Run

Horse Racing: 147th Preakness Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With a much needed off-day taking place, and back to school rituals being performed around the country, now’s as good a time as any to reflect on the stretch run. Here are 12 items of note:

  1. Everyone is playing October baseball this year. Besides two additional playoff teams, the late start to the season means a later end of the season, October 5th. Also, instead of ending on a Sunday, it ends on Wednesday. Yuck.
  2. With only 39 games left, one might suspect a bunch of games within the division. Not really true. The Astros are done with the Mariners. They play Oakland (4), Texas (5), and Anaheim (6) for a total of 15 of their final 39 games. Having just played 7 tough road games against playoff-aspiring teams, the Astros have no time to relax this week. They have 19 games against teams over .500, including 7 against the Orioles and 6 against the Rays. Considering that the Wild Card round will be a best-of-three home series for the higher seed and that the Rays are in a three-way tie for the WC, expect Tampa to be play Houston with an edge in those six games
  3. The compressed schedule has meant fewer days off. The Astros, however, have a nice stretch batch right now, with 8/22, 8/29 and 9/1 all scheduled off.
  4. Rosters can expand on 9/1, but they only expand to 28. In the old days, teams would always bring up an extra catcher and a few relief arms. Teams have less wiggle room with the new restrictions. Forget the extra catcher. The obvious call-up will be Seth Martinez, who still should be in the running for a playoff roster spot. The other spot is less obvious. Will Click make room for non-40-man players like Dirden or Hunter Brown? Would he send down a reliever for an IL stint to get another fresh arm? We’ll find out on 9/1.
  5. One needs to be on the 40-man by 8/31 for playoff eligibility. Hunter Brown may not be ready to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis, but he has little left to prove in AAA. With the bullpen tired and losing some edge, will Click give Brown a chance to be a Chris-Devinski type weapon in October? By which I mean, I guy who can get potentially 6-9 outs against a tough lineup? There is no book in the majors on Hunter Brown and an arm like that could swing the postseason.
  6. There are also milestones to consider. On the hitting side, can Yordan (31) recover his power stroke and get to 40? Can a white-hot Tucker (22) get to 30, his career high? Speaking of Tucker, he’s on pace (82) for 100 RBI and he’s one steal shy of a 20/20 season. Yordan (79) and Bregman (72) not far behind for RBI. Breggie also has 72 runs scored. Could a hot final 39 games see the proud papa finish with his first 100/100 season since 2019, when he also posted 119 walks?
  7. On the pitching side, JV (15) likely has 7 starts to get to 20 wins. Framber and Jose are three wins short of 15. In terms of league leaders, JV leads the league in wins and ERA. Framber is 2nd in IP behind old friend Gerrit Cole. Those two are also tops in QS, with Framber 1st (21) and JV t-2nd (18).
  8. In terms of playoff schedule, there’s no 2nd day off in the ALDS; a Game 5 would mean both teams fly back to the home team’s field and play the next day. Might Click go with 13 pitchers in this scenario? In which case the odds of a Brown audition would increase. I would prefer a 14/12 alignment, especially with the likelihood of the Astros toggling between several defensively challenged (Mancini, Yordan) and offensively challenged (Dubon, Meyers, Maldy) position players who might get subbed for situational advantage.
  9. Is Will Smith the bullpen lefty? He hasn’t been great, and Dusty seems to have lost some faith since the beginning of August. Blake Taylor seems sidelined? Could Mushinski get a call-up and audition? Or could Click make the decision for Dusty by leaving Smith off the roster altogether? Given the 28-man constraints, I’d bet on Smith not having to worry about a second lefty breathing down his neck.
  10. Health is a tricky thing. Through 123 games, Bregman is the team’s iron man with 118 games played and Tucker is next with 113. Expect those off days to increase for the regulars, especially after the Astros clinch. But even off days don’t guarantee health.
  11. Speaking of clinch, even if the Mariners go white-hot down the stretch, say 30-10, the Astros, holding the tie-break on the basis of winning the season series 12-7, would only need to go 18-21 to win the division. And even a Yankees-type slide would still mean the Mariners would have to play really well to catch Houston. After the Cardinals stretch run last year, anything can happen, but there’s a reason the Astros have 99.9% odds to win the division on Fangraphs (the Yankees’ odds to win the division stand at 91.2%).
  12. Speaking of our little brother, Fangraphs now predicts the Yankees to end the season with 96 wins. The only other team besides the Yankees who haven’t won consecutive games this month is the Nats. They play the aforementioned worst of the AL West (11) almost as much as the Astros do. 25 of their remaining 40 games are against currently playoff-aspirant teams. I’m not sure the 1-seed really matters much, as home field only becomes a factor if both of the top two seeds get to the ALCS.