If in May someone told you the Astros would have a critical series in mid-August, you would probably guess Yankees or Red Sox or Indians or Angels or Mariners, right? Very few would have said it would be against the A's. Hell, two months ago, no one would have told you that. But, Friday, the Astros open a three-game set in Oakland against the team breathing down their neck for the division lead.
It's been a remarkable run for the Athletics. On June 15, the A's were 34-36, eleven-and-a-half games back of the Astros. After their loss Thursday, two months later to the day, the are now 72-49, just two games back. They have gone 38-13 in two months and gained nine games in the division. By any standard, that is incredible.
In that same time frame, the Astros are 28-22, not awful especially considering the injuries they have sustained, but they will need to do better than that this weekend.
By the end of this weekend, the Astros could trail the A's in the AL West or they could be up five games. More likely, it will be something in between. They took one positive step Thursday night when they hammered the Rockies 12-1. They had five home runs, including two from Evan Gattis and two from Tyler White. Gattis had been in an 0-20 hole at the plate and the Astros had managed only one homer in the previous four games. In fact, they scored more runs Thursday night than they did in the previous four games (8), all losses.
They also got welcome news that George Springer, who has missed more than a week with a strained thumb, will return Friday. Additionally, Jose Altuve took batting practice and did some fielding before the game Thursday night, showing the first real signs of progress we have seen from the MVP in weeks. Finally, Brian McCann is scheduled for a rehab stint beginning early next week, on his way back from knee surgery.
Still, it's a tough road ahead. All of the Astros' remaining games this month are within the division including six against the A's, three against the Mariners and five with the Angels. Where they stand on September 1 will likely determine where they wind up at the end of this season.
And it all starts Friday night in Oakland of all places.