MLB: Houston Astros Road to the Playoffs Will Be Rocky

Houston Astros v Texas Rangers

Brandon Wade/Getty Images

When we looked over the American League West race in mid-August, we saw a Texas Rangers team that was getting hot and a Houston Astros team that was struggling, especially on the road. Since then, the ‘Stros have indeed lost their grip on the division and, with 16 games left play, have no stranglehold on the AL Wild Card, either. One of the feel-good stories of the 2015 MLB season may soon end badly.

Like the time the Astros let the Rangers back in the race early in August, the crisis revolved around a Texas sweep in Arlington. Both times, the Astros lost high-scoring affairs and close games alike. This time, however, Houston got bumped into second place in the AL West and now holds a one-game advantage over Minnesota for the second AL Wild Card.

It hasn’t happened overnight and, aside from a few disappearances by the Astros offense, the problems with the pitching staff have been various. MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal summed up the issue in a few telling tweets.

Meanwhile, the club’s reliance on the home run has continued to work against them. According to ESPN, Houston lost its last games where batters connected for one home run or less. It’s a power addiction a manager or hitting instructor can hardly coach out of his team at this point in the season. Finally, the club’s horrendous record on the road (29-45) smacks of a team that isn’t worthy of the playoffs.

While the Twins breathe down Houston’s neck for the last playoff spot, the Angels sit a mere three games back as Houston prepares to welcome Mike Trout and the crew from Anaheim for three games beginning September 21. After that, the Rangers swing into town for what should be a season-defining series. It’s officially red-alert time.

Houston Astros v Texas Rangers

Brandon Wade/Getty Images

Unfortunately for the Astros, the three games coming up against Oakland will be no cakewalk. Houston lost five of its last seven contests to the A’s and Sonny Gray will take his regular turn over the weekend. On the other hand, the AL West-leading Rangers are firing on all cylinders, starting with the revived rotation. If Texas can claim the division after months of futility, the trade for Cole Hamels will be praised as one of the biggest wins at the deadline.

As for the Minnesota Twins and their shot at picking off Houston for the second Wild Card, four games at home against the Angels and seven games against the rejuvenated Indians are ahead on the schedule, so taking the last playoff will not come easy. A hot Cleveland team, lurking at four games (three in the loss column) behind Houston, is the dark horse of the race.

Houston still controls its own fate with about two weeks of the season remaining. If the team continues to fail at manufacturing runs and controlling the opposing offense, it will be a long winter of regrets after such a thrilling underdog summer. At times like these, the inevitable corrections of baseball seem too cruel to bear.

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Statistics, current as of September 17, are courtesy of Baseball Reference.