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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 13, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Astros’ ineptitude has had impact on NL (and even AL) playoff race


(The Astros celebrating after a victory is not a common sight this season. Photo by Getty Images).

(As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been spending some time writing about the Seahawks in recent days. That’s going to continue — I’ll be aiding and hopefully abetting the outstanding coverage of our Seahawks beat writer, Danny O’Neil. But I’m not going to stop writing about baseball).

As everyone knows, the Astros are coming next season to the AL West, which is why visions of easy victories are dancing in the heads of the current members of the division. Indeed, the AL West has become a power conference this year, with three of the four teams still holding playoff aspirations, and the Mariners eyeing the modest achievement of a .500 season.

In his most recent blog post assessing the newly released 2013 schedule, Geoff talks about how the Mariners (along with the other teams in the division) can ride 19 games against the Astros to boost their record.

I’ll say this: Moving forward, I don’t expect the Astros to be quite as awful as they have been this year (and they’ve been historically awful in the second half). This season has been a perfect storm of factors leading to their epic collapse. Remember, they have new ownership that could well decide they’re tired of being humiliated, and throw some money at stopgap talent that would move them closer to respectability. They have added a bunch of smart people to the front office to try to undo the damage done under previous regimes. And, they hope, they finally will have some young talent bursting on the scene after trading every breathing veteran for prospects over the past couple of years. I point to the Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 in 2003 — a futility mark that won’t be reached by the Astros, who have 98 losses with 19 games to play. ThoseTigers were regarded as a hopeless team, and Detroit was a franchise in chaos. But lo and behold, the Tigers improved by 29 victories the next season, going 72-90. Two years after that, they were in the World series.

I’m not predicting that sort of turnaround for the Astros. In fact, I fully expect them to be pretty bad in 2013. But they will pick No. 1 overall next year for the second year in a row (after taking shortstop Carlos Correa this year). All I’m saying is that the Astros we see now won’t necessarily be the Astros we see to start next year, and certainly not to end it.

That said, there’s no question that a cream puff team in your division can impact a pennant race, particularly with the advent of a second wild-card. This year, for instance, the fading Pirates have stayed in the wild-card race (and kept alive their chances of finishing above .500 for the first time since 1992) in a large part by beating up on the Astros. They are 72-70 overall — 11-3 against the Astros, and 61-67 against the rest of MLB.

The Pirates stand just 2 1/2 games out of a wild-card berth as try to beat out teams that haven’t had the benefit of so many games against the Astros. One of those teams is the Diamondbacks of the NL West, who played the Astros just six times — but made the most of it, winning all six games. The D’Backs, just four games out of a wild-card berth, are 71-72 overall. Take out their dominance of the Astros, and their record falls to 65-72, a .474 winning percentage. The NL West-leading Giants can’t complain too much, however — they are 8-1 against the Astros this season.

There’s no shame in beating patsies to pad your record. That’s how teams have greased their path to the postseason since the days of the Boston Beaneaters. But it’s a little different when teams in the same league play teams a differing number of times (not to mention games against teams in the other league; the Rangers this year cleaned up on the Astros, their natural rival, in interleague play, winning five of six games which has helped them maintain a tenuous three-game division lead over the A’s, who didn’t have the benefit of playing the Astros at all (nor did the Angels). The only other AL contender to face the Astros were the White Sox, and they may rue the day (or days) they lost two out of three — at home — to Houston in June.

Here are the current wild-card standings in the National League:

Atlanta 81-63, .563

St. Louis 75-68, .524

Los Angeles 74-69, .517 (1 game behind)

Pittsburgh 72-70, .507 (2 1/2 games behind)

Milwaukee 72-71, .503 (3 games behind)

Philadelphia 72-71, .503 (3 games behind)

Arizona 71-72, .497 (4 games behind)

Here’s how those teams have done against the Astros:

Atlanta: 4-2

St. Louis: 6-3

Los Angeles: 4-2

Pittsburgh: 11-3

Milwaukee: 8-6

Philadelphia: 2-0

Arizona 6-0

As you can see, the hard-charging Phillies have gotten short shrift. But they’re about to be given a true gift — a four-game series against the Astros, beginning tonight. The game are in Houston, but that might not matter, considering the current state of the two teams (the Phillies have won seven in a row, and 18 of their last 24; Houston is 12-45 since the All-Star break).

The Cardinals are also licking their chops — they still have six games left with the Astros, a home and road series. The Pirates have three games in Houston, while the Brewers have three games against the ‘Stros at home. The Brewers, as you can see, haven’t done as well against Astros as others, which could hurt them in the end as they, like the Phillies, try to make a furious run to a wild-card spot after struggling much of the season. The Reds are done with Houston, but with an 11 1/2-game division lead, it doesn’t much matter. In case you’re wondering, the Reds were 10-5 against the Astros.

The Astros could indeed have a say in who makes the playoffs, even though, for the most part, they’ve been slaughtered by everyone. It’s just that some teams have had more opportunity than others.



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