The 2015 Astros have surprised us all. I remember seeing the light at the end of the tunnel last year, when we had our first season in 4 years to pull out of the 100+ loss club. We saw some of the talent coming in, and our roster start to open up a little (as well as salaries for players), and started gaining some hope for the team. The farming system was gaining some national spotlight, and even Sports Illustrated boldly predicted a Pennant Championship by 2017. Not that Sports Illustrated can be counted on as a solid predictor of outcomes, but still.
The Astros were finally shaping into a team we could really root for.
This year, the young and talented team has given Houston a possible run for the MLB playoffs for the first time since our first and only World Series appearance back in 2005. This was unexpected. We all expected the Astros to be more competitive this year, and a future contender, but playoff thoughts were still realistically a year or two away. The team started off strong, and flipped back and forth until they became the somewhat dominant leader in the AL West with an Angels sweep in July. We’ve held strong up until September, when the playoff race got real.
September found the Astros starting to slip. In fact, the month of September hasn’t been kind to the Astros at all. In the past 11 games, the Astros have only had 4 wins, and they’re currently in the midst of a brutal away-game stretch that has them finishing it out with a team that is now only 1.5 games behind, and has an overall 8-4 win-loss record over the Astros. In fact, the Rangers are our toughest divisional opponent, with the Athletics (ironically) getting the best of us 50% of the time, and the Angels and Mariners coming in 3rd and 4th, winning 44% and 37% of the time, respectively.
With over a third of our remaining games being against the Rangers, that playoff push seemed to be slowly fading away. It seemed really distant in yesterday’s game, up until a well-placed ball hit by Correa seemed to turn the momentum around for the ball club. Until that moment, the Astros had 8 stale innings, having more hits than the Angels, but leaving every single hit stranded. Two bats had produced two outs, and it seemed like it was all over for the Astros.
Preston Tucker came up to bat, and cracked a solo-HR to keep the team alive, making it 3-1 Angels, with still 2 outs in the top of the 9th. Springer follows up with a triple, and came in to make it 3-2 after an Altuve base hit. Then Correa came up to bat. Cetainly Correa had what it took to knock in the tying run, or maybe even get the go-ahead with a home run. And he hit a strong, solid, fast ball right down the field, and looked like a promising base hit that would get Altuve to 3rd, or maybe even home, until the Angel’s 2nd baseman, Taylor Featherston, made a diving catch to keep it infield.
And with that, the game was over. So, I thought.
But it wasn’t. The ball was hit so hard that it stuck in the webbing of Featherston’s glove, and the few seconds it took for him to wedge it out of the webbing also gave Correa time to safely get to 1st. Still, with 2 outs. In a matter of minutes, this game went from probable loss to a miraculous last-minute comeback. We had a tying runner on 2nd, the go-ahead run on 1st, and a series of hits since that 2nd out that breathed new life into the game. We still had hope.
And Jed Lowrie came up to bat and made that hope a reality with a 3-run homer that put the Astros 2 runs ahead, for the first time in the game. The Angels finally closed out the top of the 9th, but failed to produce any more runs, and the Astros had made the comeback of the year. And boy was this win needed.
Yesterday’s game was a must-win. Yesterday’s game began to shape up like the beginning of the end for the Astros post-season hopes. I know I would effectively put them out of the running because we’d be going into Arlington just 1 game ahead, and with a lousy away-game losing streak of 1 win and 5 losses. Had we not turned this road series around before the Rangers, I feel that we would have sealed our fate. Luck was with us yesterday, though. In fact, that game almost felt like kismet.
We still have a tough road ahead – all but 3 of the final games are divisional, and we’ve got 2 serious contenders for the AL West title. The Rangers are right on our heels, and could overtake the lead in this next 4-game series with a sweep. The Angels shouldn’t be counted out, either, considering they have the best win/loss ratio over divisional play, and that’s pretty much all we’ve got left in September. The Yankees are slipping as well, which makes the final wildcard spot a possibility for an AL West team, as well.
Predictions at this point would lead me to say that it is literally anyone’s spot. The Angels could take it all back. The Rangers could grab the lead and take it home. We could use this game as momentum to keep the top spot here. With a majority of our games left being home games, that gives a slight edge to the Astros – but that’s a very slight edge. We’ve got 2 changes – either keeping the top spot in the AL West, or squeezing in as the final Wildcard. The second chance holds the bigger possibility, as I don’t see the Astros falling behind both the Rangers and The Angels.
I do feel that the winner of this Texas series is going to take the AL West, though.
With that being said, and game time being just under an hour and a half away, I say let’s play ball, and go out swinging!