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Playoff Race: Astros Can’t Let Up

The AL West race has just begun. It’s not over ‘till it’s over.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
Astros’ fans watch the Astros take batting practice at Globe Life field before taking on the Rangers.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros had a critical series with the Texas Rangers and the outcome was a series for the Ages. The Astros were incredibly dominant. The Astros came out of it leading the AL West for the first time this season. Fans should be excited by the outcome.

But some fans are so excited they believe the AL West division race is over. No, it isn’t over. The Astros are only one half game ahead of the Mariners. The Rangers are only three games behind with 21 games to play. This looks more like a division race that is just beginning in earnest, rather than a contest that is almost over. Although the probabilities tell us the Astros are in good position to win the division as I will discuss shortly, still a 40% chance of losing the division is a probability that can happen with reasonable frequency.

So, my theme is this: If they intend to win the division, the Astros cannot let up for the rest of the season. The Astros need to put the pedal tot he metal—or whatever similar metaphor you want to use. Some reasons for my thoughts:

  • The Astros need to overcome a relatively poor record at home. For example, in tonight’s game, the Padres come to town with a better road runs differential (+15) than the Astros’ negative run differential at home. I discussed the home disadvantage earlier this week, and concluded that it may well be random variation. Hopefully, the Astros will regress to a more normal home record over the rest of the season.
  • The Astros must stay as focused on the match ups with lessor teams as they are when they face the Rangers. Some of the lessor teams are quite talented. The Padres are 20 games behind in the NL West, but their Pythagorean Record would put their record 11 games above .500. The Royals are a bad team. But in August 2021, the Astros lost three straight games to the Royals. That would be very bad if it happened now.
  • The Astros need to correct the poor play that they displayed previously against the Mariners this year. The Astros’ series in Seattle may turn out to be pivotal.

Playoff Odds Are Looking Good

As I have done in past articles, I will look at the Astros’ current probabilities for the playoffs. For the reasons stated in previous articles, I will rely on the Fangraphs daily playoff odds. At this point, the playoff odds should be comforting to Astros’ fans. But, beware that the playoff odds can turn on a dime if the Astros have a losing streak or fall flat in the series against the Mariners.

The Astros’ odds of winning the division are at high water mark of 62.8%. The Rangers’ odds of winning the division have shrunk to 3.8%. With a 98% Playoff probability, it would be shocking if the Astros missed the playoffs. The Astros also hold the highest probability of winning the World Series (14.6%) of any team in the American League.

(Projected Wins, Division Odds, Make Playoffs)

Astros 92.3 Wins, 62.8% Division Odds, 98% Playoff Odds

Mariners 90.6 Wins, 33.5% Division Odds, 88% Playoff Odds

Rangers 87.6 Wins, 3.8% Division Odds, 48% Playoff Odds

The Astros have a significant advantage in remaining Strength of Schedule at .486, compared to the Mariners at .518 and the Rangers at .513.

Rest of Season (ROS) Regression / Reversion

The ZIPS updated ROS projections are included in the Fangraphs playoff odds model, and the projections can provide us some expectations for players who may improve or regress over the remainder of the season. This means that the model assumes that the current season stats reflect over- or under- performance for certain players. I calculated regression / reversion based upon hitters’ wRC+, both current and ROS, and pitchers’ ERA, both current and ROS, according to ZIPS.


Significant Regression: Chas McCormick (-21%), Jose Altuve (-15%), and Yainer Diaz (-15%) are expected to have the largest regression over the rest of the season. Jose Altuve has been really, really good this season, and it’s not surprising if he has over-peformed so far. But his ROS projection is still quite good (wRC+ 139). Given the recent discussions of McCormick and Diaz playing time, the projected regression for both players is notable. ZIPS believes that both players have over performed with respect to power (ISO), and expects their ISO to slow down. Although their ROS stats reflect regression, McCormick and Diaz are expected to be above average hitters (wRC+ of 116 and 108, respectively). Michael Brantley has a projected ROS wRC+ of 116, which creates very close comparative numbers for selecting starters in LF and at DH.

Significant Improvement: Jose Abreu (+31%) and Alex Bregman (+5) are expected to revert toward a higher wRC+ than their current season numbers. Abreu’s large percentage increase in due in significant part to a low current seasonal wRC+. He is projected to put up a 106 wRC+ over the remaining season. Bregman has caught fire over the last month, and ZIPS projects a wRC+ of 135 for the remaining season.


Significant Regression: J.P. France (+25%), Bryan Abreu (+77%), Hector Neris (+105%) and Phil Maton (+16%) are projected to pitch to a higher ERA over the remainder of the season. Both Neris and Abreu have an ERA of 2.00 or below, and are expected to regress to a 3.84 and 3.54 (respectively) ERA over the remainder of the season. Maton had a miniscule ERA in the early months of the season, and is expected to regress to a 3.86 ERA over the rest of season. France’s projected ROS ERA of 4.66 is closer to his projected FIP.

Significant Improvement: ZIPS projects improvement in the starting rotation ERA over the rest of season. Hunter Brown (-15%), Cristian Javier (-14%), and Jose Urquidy (-24%) are projected to significantly lower their ERA, and Justin Verlander is expected to moderately reduce his ERA (-5%). In previous articles, I noted that all signs for Hunter Brown were pointing in the direction of improvement for the rest of season. He has experienced some bad luck this season. Among relievers, Ryan Pressly (-13%) and Rafael Montero (-17%) are projected to pitch to a significantly reduced ERA over the rest of the season. Pressly is expected to have a 2.93 ERA and Montero a 4.22 ERA over the remainder of the season.

None of this is to say that the signs of regression/reversion actually will occur in the remaining 21 games. But the prospect of better starting pitching is welcome.