As the calendar flips into September and the regular season for baseball enters the stretch run, the Astros seems well-positioned to once again make noise in October, much as they have done the past five years. At the time of this writing, the Astros hold an 11-game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the AL West division, sit 11 games clear of a threat to a playoff bye, and are five games up on the Yankees for home-field for the AL playoffs. They trail the Dodgers by 6.5 games for home-field overall, but given the last couple of World Series appearances, that may not be a bad thing.
Yet, even as the Astros finish out the regular season and can start turning an eye towards the playoffs, there is a possible area of concern when it comes to playoff matchups. While the Astros continue to chew through most opponents, they have surprisingly struggled with opponents coming out of the East. Consider the latest standings:
Record vs. AL West: 42-21
Record vs. AL Central: 23-8
Record vs. AL East: 10-12
Yes, the team with the best record in the AL and the second best record in the league is under .500 against their brethren to the East. That is certainly an eyebrow raiser. Let’s look at a few of the matchups.
HOU vs. TOR: Toronto won the season series 4-2 (2-1 at home, 2-1 on the road)
HOU vs. BOS: Boston won the season series 4-2 (2-1 at home, 2-1 on the road)
HOU vs. BAL: Baltimore won the first series 2-1 on the road. They have a 4-game home series against Houston from Sept 22-25.
Houston has not yet faced the Tampa Bay Rays, but they will have six games against the Rays in their last 15.
Of the teams mentioned here, three of them are significant players in the Wild Card chase. Surprisingly, Boston is not one of them. More surprisingly, Baltimore is, even after unloading a veteran like Mancini to Houston at the trade deadline. Tampa holds the #1 WC spot, and Toronto has the 3rd WC, two games back and 1.5 games up on Baltimore. Given that the Astros have faced off against at least one AL East team in the playoffs since they joined the AL, it would be very surprising if the Astros do not see at least one, if not more, AL East teams in the playoffs.
Granted, regular season records do not always reflect what will happen in the playoffs (more on that later), but as of now, the Astros, should they face off against an AL East team, even if they have the likely home field advantage, should not presume to have it in the bag.
Oh, and in a bit of possible optimism (or pessimism), the Astros got to play against the NL East this season in their inter-league crossover matchups (along with a 4-game set against Arizona). How have those matchups gone:
HOU vs. WAS: The Astros won 2-1 on the road
HOU vs. MIA: The Marlins won 2-1 on the road
HOU vs. ATL: The Braves won 2-1 at home
HOU vs. PHI: Houston will host a 3-game set in the final series of the season (fallout from the labor issues that delayed the start of the season).
Given that the last two World Series match-ups for Houston saw them fall to NL East squads, these results may not be so shocking. Houston won’t have to worry about Miami, but they won’t get Washington either (for better or worse). The shift of the Phillies’ series offers some areas of concern. The Phillies started the season slowly, but they are now significant threats for the NL Wild Card. Depending on how the season has played out to that point, the series might mean everything to both teams, or it might mean nothing.
To this point, the Astros record against the “Beasts from the East” is a collective 9-15. Given their winning percentage this season, that is…not good. However, there is a rather “Big” caveat to those numbers. These are the 11 games that Houston played against the New York teams. In particular, 9 of those games were played consecutively at the end of June, with a doubleheader slated for the 1st day after the All-Star Break (another result from the lockout). The numbers:
HOU vs. New York (Yankees): 5-2 (2-2 at NYY, 3-0 at HOU)
HOU vs. New York (Mets): 4-0 (2-0 at NYM, 2-0 at HOU)
Throw in the New York numbers, and that moves the Astros to a collective 18-17 against teams from the East. This is well below their winning percentage for the season. While Houston would have a high degree of confidence if they faced either of the New York teams, regular season results are no guarantee of post-season success. Remember that Houston lost the regular season series against the Yankees in 2019.
Each series and each game has its caveats (all the Toronto games were played before mid-May when the Astros seemingly shook off their early-season malaise, the Yankee matchups were disrupted by rescheduling, and the Astros may or may not have a lot to play for when they face off against the Rays and Phillies). Still, the Astros and the Astros fan nation will need to be on guard if they face off against another squad from the East.