The Houston Astros are no longer in first place in the AL West, as everybody knows. Earlier in the season there was a surprising aspect to their successful turnaround, so much so that owner Jim Crane gave GM Jeff Luhnow and his staff the go-ahead to improve the club.
They brought in outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Scott Kazmir but failed to put together trades for Cole Hamels and Aroldis Chapman, two players they sought in order to really put their best foot forward.
Now, however, with Houston having seen its lead on first-place usurped by the Texas Rangers, they've fallen into the role of having to fight and hold on to a Wild Card spot or somehow leap-frog the Rangers at the last minute.
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At the Astros Foundation's Golf Classic event on Thursday, Crane spoke with Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle about his perspective now that the Astros have played themselves into some trouble over the past few weeks.
Specifically, Crane would be 'disappointed' if the Astros fizzled out of the postseason race: "With the team improving considerably this year, we've also gotten some more people in the ballpark and created a little excitement," he told Ortiz. "We want to definitely try to get it over the finish line. It would be a big disappointment if we don't at least get in the playoffs as a wild card, so they have some work to do."
The Astros have a slight lead for the second Wild Card spot in the AL, though dropping two of three to the Los Angeles Angels this week didn't help matters. They also host the Rangers starting on Friday night for a big three-game weekend series that has obvious implications for both teams' postseason aspirations.
Crane hasn't given up hope just yet, despite his 'disappointment' comment: "We're close. We're not in the playoffs yet," Crane told Ortiz. "It's fun to contend. Like I said, we felt we had a decent team breaking out of camp."
Whether or not the improved Astros figure out a way to recapture the magic that propelled them for so much of this season is something that will be fascinating to watch as the next week or so unfolds.