Thursday, July 18, 2024

Astros clinch playoff spot: Defending World Series champions return to postseason for seventh straight year

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USATSI

The defending World Series champions are headed back to the postseason. The Houston Astros have clinched a postseason berth thanks to Saturday’s win over the Arizona Diamondbacks (HOU 1, ARI 0) and the Seattle Mariners‘ loss to the Texas Rangers (TEX 6, SEA 1). The Astros are assured at least a wild-card berth, though the AL West title remains in play.

Here are the updated of the AL West standings:

  1. Texas Rangers: 90-71
  2. Houston Astros: 89-72 (1 GB)
  3. Seattle Mariners: 87-74 (3 GB)
  4. Los Angeles Angels: 72-88 (17 GB)
  5. Oakland Athletics: 49-111 (40 GB)

The Astros can still win the division. For that to happen, they must beat the D-backs on Sunday while the Mariners beat the Rangers. In that case Houston and Texas would finish with identical 90-72 records, and the Astros would be crowned division champs because the Astros won season series 9-4 against the Rangers. Keep in mind the Mariners no longer have anything to play for while the Diamondbacks only have seeding (a five or six) to worry about. 

Winning the division is not trivial. The AL West champion will get the No. 2 seed and thus secure a Wild Card Series bye. The division runner-up has to play an extra postseason round, and the more postseason rounds you have to play, the lower your World Series odds. It’s another chance to get eliminated. That bye is incredibly valuable.

This year’s Astros are not as formidable as the 2017-22 versions, though they are not to be taken lightly. Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander are a strong 1-2 punch atop the rotation, and any lineup that includes Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker is dangerous. Closer Ryan Pressly has struggled of late, though setup man Bryan Abreu is excellent.

There is something strange with this year’s team is the home/road splits. The Astros finished just 39-42 at home while being one of the best road teams in the majors. They hadn’t had a losing home record since 2014. 

The Astros have not only made the postseason every year since 2017, they’ve gone to the ALCS every year since 2017. They are the only team in the wild-card era (since 1995) to go to six straight Championship Series. Houston will look to extend the streak to seven now that they’ve secured at least a wild-card spot.

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