The Houston Astros came into September in prime position: A number one position in the American League West with a solid lead over all divisional opponents (a 5 game lead over the #2 ranked team, the Texas Rangers), a 6-game lead in the wildcard race should that top position in the American League West be taken, and a 7-3 winning streak coming out of August. Playoff hopes were high, almost at a lock, and the first post-season appearance since the 2005 season and World Series appearance was the Astros’ spot to lose.
Needless to say, after a rough road-game series start to September that garnered only 4 wins, a bump down to 2nd place in the American League West, and a 5-game losing streak that caused said demotion, it seemed like the Astros answered that statement with a single phrase: Challenge Accepted. The beginning of the end was upon the team, and nobody could step up to the challenge of overcoming the late-season slump, whether it be pitching or base-hitting. All seemed to be lost within the Astros organization, and losses kept piling up.
After the ill-fated, 10-game road series, the Astros returned home to start a 9-game series that would hopefully pull them out of this slump. The first game almost dashed all our hopes. After taking an early 3-0 lead by the 3rd inning, they failed to produce another run, and the Athletics rallied in to win the game by a single run. After that 3rd inning, the Astros only produced 1 run to base, and 1 walk, and the team looked thoroughly defeated on field. All signs pointed to demise after the first home game of the series, and fans were coming to terms with the possibility that it was all over.
Saturday night, the game started out similarly. The Astros got a jump and were up by 3 early on in the game. In the 2nd inning, the Athletics answered back with one of their own. A few innings later, they’d tie the game, then go up 3 runs ahead, while the Astros remained unable to get another runner across home plate. But then something happened. The Astros started hitting again. We came back alive in the 6th, and then Evan Gattis knocked in a 3-run HR in the 7th which put the us ahead and sealed the game. A few more runs were added to the 8th, and the Astros finally had their comeback, with a final score of 10-6.
The Astros started the next game revived. They held the Athletics to 1 run, and had a few powerhouse hits throughout to take the game, and win the first series they’ve won since the first weekend in September. That series, by the way, was with the Minnesota Twins, who are just behind the Astros in the wildcard race. Perhaps this was the spark that they needed to get back on their feet. Maybe this was the trend the team has fallen into since June, starting out slow with road games, and finishing strong in the second half of the month.
The question that lingers on everyone’s minds is whether or not they can keep moving forward with the same momentum. The playoff hopes seem to be coming down to their performance this week, at home, against 2 divisional opponents. The 3-game series with the Los Angeles Angels starts tonight, in which the Astros have a winning record against (9-7 season series, and 5-1 at home). The Astros have only lost to the Angels in 1 game at home this season, and the last home series was a sweep. Do the Astros still have the power and will to win another series at home? Statistics say yes.
The hardest series will be against the Rangers, which directly follows the Angels series, with 1 day off in between. This will be the true turning point, as the Astros are currently on a 7-game losing streak with the Rangers, with the last 2 series being swept. If the Astros come out with a series win with the Angels (and even possibly have a series sweep), there may be enough momentum to carry them over and win a few games with the Rangers. The big question will be if momentum is enough. The Rangers seem to have our number, and know how to rack up the base hits.
If the Astros want to make it to the post-season, they’ll have to turn up some decent games with the Rangers. They have to win at least 1, ending their losing streak with their toughest divisional opponent, and possibly win out on the series. What that takes is a balanced, disciplined bullpen, precision defense in the outfield, and patience at bat. With these combined efforts, the Astros can defeat the bane of their existence (and roadblock to the playoffs). The Astros have what it takes, but they have to execute.