With a 7-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, the Houston Astros won their first-ever A.L. West division title and first division crown since 2001.
The Astros, who surged to first place in the division in May and never looked back, will make their first postseason appearance since 2015, when they fell to the future World Series champions Kansas City Royals in the A.L. divisional series.
Through much of this summer, the Astros were the best team in the American League and were on pace for more than 100 wins, earning comparisons to the 1998 squad, which won 102 games. But Houston suffered a series of injuries and limped out of the All-Star Break, allowing the Cleveland Indians — helped in no small part by an A.L.-record, 22-game winning streak — to claim the league's best records.
If that pace holds through the final 12 days of regular season play, this means the Astros will play the division winner with the third-best record in the first round of the playoffs, likely the Boston Red Sox. In their only series so far, the Red Sox took two of three games. But Houston visits Boston for the final four games of the regular season — a coincidence that could potentially mean the teams would meet for nine games in a row.
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Sunday brought another bit of good news — further validation that the Astros made the right choice in acquiring ace right-hander Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers at the end of August. Verlander struck out ten batters in seven innings, increasing his record to a perfect 3-0 in as many starts for Houston this season.
The Astros will need Verlander and No. 2 starter Dallas Keuchel to supplement the team's hot bats to make a deep playoff run. With the division clinched, the Astros can afford to rest weary players and enter October with a fresh lineup. Expect second baseman Jose Altuve to keep hacking away, though. With a league-leading .348 batting average, Altuve is on track for his third A.L. batting title in four years and is a strong candidate for MVP.