Houston Astros: How important is the Rangers series?

It’s crunch time, and it’s still anyone’s game and division. As it stands right now, the MLB ranks both the Astros and the Rangers as having a 91% probability of playing in the postseason.  That probability (combined with the 5% probability that the next-up contender of the 2nd wildcard spot, the Minnesota Twins) tells us that, if the teams keep playing how they’ve been playing in the last couple of months, we’ll see both Texas teams in the postseason.

The big question is which team will take the American League West?

There are a lot of variables to look at when predicting how the season will end for both of these teams.  Among those variables are post-All-Star performance, home versus away games, divisional opponents versus non-divisional opponents, as well as league versus inter-league play.  Most importantly, team versus team.  All of these factors are at play in the next 2 weeks, and in the next 11 games for the Astros and 13 games for the Rangers.

That leads to a lot of uncertainty, which will likely lead us to knowing the division winner, as well as who makes the playoffs, no later than early October.

As it also stands right now, the American League West title will likely go to the Rangers, while the Astros will likely end up in the 2nd wildcard spot, leading to a single-game playoff against the Yankees on the road.  The Astros recent history suggest that this would be a nightmare scenario for the Astros (considering road game wins have dwindled down to just 20% in this past month alone), but it isn’t the nightmare that it seems, given the last road game series won by the Astros was vs the Yankees.

That being said, the Astros would have a higher probability of getting valuable playoff experience sitting atop the American League West running into the playoffs, instead of facing a 1-game elimination round on the road.  This is a daunting task for the Astros to pull off, and it relies on more than just the Astros winning; it also relies on the Rangers losing.  However, there are advantages and disadvantages for each club, respectively, in their final 2 weeks of baseball, that could give either team the title of the American League West Divisional Champs.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors, starting with how each team broke out of the All-Star break.

The Astros had a better first half of the season than the Rangers; there’s no doubt about that.  Heading into the All-Star Break, the Astros were 49 wins and 43 losses, with a win percentage of .532.  The Rangers came in with 42 wins and 47 losses, with a win percentage of .471.  Post All-Star Break, the Rangers came out with guns blazing.  Their second half record of wins and losses, respectively, stands 39 – 22, with a win percentage of .639.  The Astros have remained fairly consistent with their first half, garnering a win-loss ratio of 31-29, and a win percentage of .517.

If we determine the seating arrangement based solely on this performance, we’ve got the Rangers taking the top spot, naturally.  They’re a game ahead, and have a better winning percentage.  Based on these results, alone, the Rangers would finish out with a record of 88-74, and the Astros would wind up with a record of 86-76.  That would mean the Minnesota Twins would have to win 10 of their 12 remaining games to knock the Astros out, so the Astros would likely take the wildcard spot, and the Rangers would take the Division.

Why the division series is important: if we are basing it on the statistics of wins and losses in the 2nd half of the season,there would be a 2 game difference between the clubs.  Statistically speaking, the series would go 1-2, in favor of the Rangers.  If the Astros pull off a sweep, then we have a tie, and a tie-breaker game to determine the overall winner.  And boy, wouldn’t that be exciting?

Likewise, if we looked at the home versus away win probabilities of each team in the second half of the season, we’d have similar results.  The Astros and Rangers a one game difference at home record in the 2nd half, with 23 wins and 10 losses, and 23 wins and 9 losses, with a winning percentages of .697 and .719, respectively.  However, the Astros seem to sink on the road, winning only 8 out of 28 away games, at a winning percentage of .286.  The Rangers dominate, with 16 wins out of 29 away games, at a percentage of .551.

Following this trend, this leads the Astros and Rangers to a 3-game difference at the end of the season:the Rangers would have 88-74, and Astros would have 85-77.  The 3 game series wouldn’t hold as much strength in determining the Division winner for the Astros, as they’d be slated to likely win 2 of 3 in this scenario.  However, A sweep or winning series for the Rangers would certainly clinch the Division Title for the Rangers.

For the final 2 weeks, both the Astros and Rangers have a 3-game, non-divisional series, and remaining games are divisional.  Both teams have the same winning record against non-divisional opponents in the second half of the season, but the Rangers, who struggled early in the season with divisional opponents, now have a .606 winning percentage against divisional opponents, versus a .387 winning percentage for the Astros.

Given these percentages, if the teams follow this trend, the Astros would fall to 83-79, and the Rangers would stay at 88-74.  A 5 game difference would also put the Astros in jeopardy of possibly losing the wildcard spot or playing a tie-breaker game with Minnesota for the final playoff seat. Our record against Minnesota in the 2nd half is even, so it could be anyone’s game (although slight favor would be Minnesota, as tie-breaker procedures would likely put the game at home for them).

There are a lot of different, independent variables that affect each team, and we can scrutinize more stats to give or take a game or 2 from each, but the most important factor here is the anomaly that does not follow any of the general stats that each ball club has.  This factor is the head-to-head competition.  The Astros have won 4 games out of 16 against the Rangers this year, and haven’t won a single game v the Rangers since July 19th. The last 2 series have ended with Rangers sweeps, and we have 1 final series in the last 2 weeks of the season.

This is immeasurable, as far as stats go.  This is the 90% mental aspect of baseball that Yogi Bera was speaking of (rest in peace, great legend).  It’s the mental block that keeps the Astros shaky when entering this series.  The stigma surrounding the Astros weary record against his haphazardly forced in-state rivalry IS the reason why this series is so important.  It’s the Tal’s Hill of the schedule – and the Astros usually fall when scrambling up it.

For the Astros, going into this series is the test of sink or swim.  We’re down to the final count in the season, and this is a major series.    Of course, every game from here on out is important.  When we’ve got a season dwindling down to nothing, and the final count is going to knock teams out by less than a series-worth of games, they’re all meaningful.  However, this last home series v the Rangers is what will define this Astros season – whether we can persevere, or fold under pressure and try again next year.

This final series is about pride.  If the Astros take it, they can take the West.

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