At one point earlier this season, the Texas Rangers held a 6.5 game lead in the division. After last night's shellacking in Arlington, the Astros not only took over the AL West lead for the first time this season, but pushed the Rangers out of the playoffs if they started today.
It would have been OK to believe on Monday morning that things were headed in the opposite direction. The Astros were coming off an embarrassing three-game sweep by the awful Yankees at Minute Maid heading to Dallas to meet the team that was ahead of them in the standings. But, the Mariners and Rangers managed to stumble themselves and with two blowout wins coupled with a pair of Mariners losses, the Astros are back on top.
Jose Altuve just keeps doing amazing things.
The Astros second baseman did something in this series no one had ever done before: he hit four home runs in four straight at bats. That happened in his last at bat Monday followed by three straight in three consecutive innings Tuesday. That three straight is only the third time in baseball history that occurred. Never mind he had five total home runs in just six at bats in two games. Altuve is currently slashing .321/.406/.563 with an OPS of .969...for the season. This is after he missed the first 43 games of the season with a broken thumb and had another stint on the IL subsequent to that. Just incredible stuff.
The offense around Altuve has been spectacular.
For a huge chunk of this season, the Astros survived on stingy pitching while the bats, with a handful of exceptions, struggled, and the team hoped to be at full strength someday. That day has arrived and as they close in on the postseason, productivity at the plate has soared. Suddenly, a thin bench has turned into one packed with guys like Mauricio Dubon, Michael Brantley, Jake Meyers and Yainer Diaz, all who have been and could still be everyday position players.
It's true that Rangers pitching has been struggling badly, but taking advantage of it isn't always a given with this lineup. Yet, they have gotten back-to-back home runs from the 9-1 hitters three times in two games. That just never happens. And while we may quibble with the lineup (Diaz and Chas McCormick should be everyday players), the fact that this team has so much talent and depth now is beginning to pay dividends at the plate.
Ryne Stanek's injury is not as bad as feared.
Speaking of depth, the bullpen took a hit on Monday night when Stanek, covering first base in the eighth inning, hurt his ankle. Speculation was, at least based on the grimace on his face, that it was broken. In fact, it was nothing more than a sprain and he was put on the 15-day IL. That's big because the Astros pitching has been shaky at best over the last few weeks.
For the entire season, the bullpen depth has been this team's strength, but they were overly taxed. Trading for Kendall Graveman has certainly helped, but the lack of long outings for starters has continued to push an already worn out bullpen. A pennant chase isn't making that any better. The Astros need more outings like Tuesday when Framber Valdez gave up one run in seven innings before handing it over to Joel Kuhnel to finish it off.
The remaining schedule favors the Astros.
When looking at schedules, it does appear the Astros have the advantage in the AL West. The Mariners have one more against red hot Cincinnati before heading to Tampa Bay to face the always good Rays. The M's also have a series against the Dodgers and a pair of series with the Rangers. In fact, their last 10 games of the season are against the Rangers and the Astros. Yikes.
The Rangers don't fare much better with an upcoming four-game series in Toronto against the team they are fighting against for the final Wild Card spot and those two season-ending series with the Mariners.
The Astros, on the other hand, have the Mariners, Orioles and Diamondbacks, but also the Royals twice, the A's and Padres.