The Astros find themselves in relatively unfamiliar territory: Fighting off two division rivals for the AL West title. Possibly even a postseason berth if certain things don’t break right. These nine games across three more series hold a lot of weight. Perform well and the postseason is no longer a hypothetical but a reality. Have a repeat of the past few series and it becomes increasingly murky whether this club will even qualify for October.
As it currently stands, the Astros have an 89.9% chance of qualifying for the postseason based on FanGraphs’ playoff odds. 51% chance of winning the division title, with the Mariners coming in at 30% and the Rangers at 19%. 84.6% chance of qualifying for the postseason at Baseball-Reference, with a 51.4% chance of winning the division. Considering the circumstances of the season, those odds aren’t too shabby. That said, if the Astros don’t ultimately qualify or finish with a Wild Card berth, then those two series against the A’s and Royals are increasingly difficult to stomach.
I believe it is fair to state that most of us were expecting the Astros to turn it on and never look back at various junctures this season. For me, it was definitely following that dismantling of the Rangers in Arlington earlier in September. But losing three consecutive series in addition to the home sweep by the Yankees at the start of the month looms large if the worst-case scenario unfolds. While all the games matter, a poor performance in September carries a larger emotional weight than anything else.
For better or worse, it is time for these Astros to put up or shut up. I’m all for optimization all season long, but that is unrealistic across all 162 games. There are instances when you’re not going to see the best lineup or have everyone available in your bullpen. That’s fine as it is a long season. Players need the occasional rest. Injuries happen. Perhaps there is a matchup to exploit. But Dusty Baker’s tendencies to not play his best players at a higher frequency than warranted has become silly this season. I mean, Yainer Díaz’s bat should be in the lineup for these nine games. If not nine, how about eight? Chas McCormick needs to play all nine games. No more off days for Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Of course, these situations are all context-dependent, but it is likely going to become a mad dash to the finish line. In other words, play your best guys and let the results fall as they may. But not taking every advantage from here on out would be a travesty.
In a way, it is almost impressive that the Astros are 85-68. I know that their pythag record is 88-65, which would be awesome right now. But considering the injuries, regression, and overall inconsistency from this roster, it is a small victory for this club to have 85 wins at this point. That would’ve been a cute storyline in 2015 or 2016. But it is 2023 and the Astros are well past the cute, feel-good headlines. Now is the time to win some freaking games.