About a week ago, things seemed to not look great for the Astros. Gerrit Cole was missing a start with an injury. Carlos Correa tweaked the back that had caused him so many issues last season. Aledmys Diaz was sidelined with an illness and the news came down that Ryan Pressly needed his knee scoped. That was compounded by worries over the bullpen's relative ineffectiveness.
In the standings, the A's were creeping closer and the Yankees had widened their lead in the AL to more than four games. The Dodgers maintained their stranglehold on baseball's best record.
Then, things turned around. The Astros won seven of their next eight games, including a sweep of the Angels over the weekend. Cole returned and was brilliant. It was reported that Diaz would be back this week and the team learned Correa's injury did not appear serious.
Meanwhile, the bullpen got better — thanks in part to some much needed rest — and Astros hitters have been smoking the cover off the ball in the meantime, particularly the top of the order.
After finishing the sweep of the Angels, the Astros found themselves tied with the Yanks for the best record in the AL (the 'Stros own the tiebreaker) and just one game behind the Dodgers. Ironically, New York finished off their series in LA against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday. That leaves both teams a game behind LA for the best record in baseball.
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With about a month to go in the season, the Astros are now nine and a half games ahead of the A's, a virtual lock to win the division, and in a battle with New York and Los Angeles for the best record in the league. At this point, those three teams seem the odds on favorites to make their respective conference championship series.
What's been so impressive for the Astros has been the combination of continued dominance at the plate mixed with perhaps the best rotation in baseball. They have the two leading Cy Young candidates in Cole and Justin Verlander. Zack Greinke continues to eat up innings and rack up wins. Even Wade Miley has remained one of the AL's ERA leaders. Hell, Framber Valdez pitched six innings of one-run ball on Sunday in place of Aaron Sanchez, who isn't expected back from his pectoral injury for a couple weeks.
The team remains on pace to finish with the best record in franchise history and their September call ups give them a chance to look at some young talent without the pressure of a division race.
And given their schedule and relentless excellence, it's easy to imagine they might wrap up the best record in the AL or maybe even the entire league in the next couple weeks.