It's time for the Houston Astros to win ballgames. If they have any hopes of retaining their slim lead in the AL Wild Card race (they're one and a half games up on the Los Angeles Angels for the second spot after dropping two of three to the Angels this week), they'll have to get back on track, and soon. To miss the postseason entirely after being the story of the league for much of the season would be, as owner Jim Crane said, pretty disappointing.
That the first-place Texas Rangers are coming to Minute Maid Park starting on Friday night doesn't help matters, since Houston is just 4-12 against their in-state rivals this season...but they know what they have to do.
Manager A.J. Hinch conveyed as much to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart on Thursday: "We need a good series here for a couple of reasons. One, we're in the middle of this. Despite losing this series [to the Angels], we're .500 on this homestand and we're right in the thick of this. We're in the thick of the division; we're in the thick of the Wild Card, with our sights set on a really big series against Texas. I downplay everything for five-plus months to get to this series. There's no downplaying it."
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He's right, the Astros absolutely are 'in the middle of this' pertaining to the playoff picture. Though their rough week has taken its toll on their immediate place in the race, they're very much alive and can control their own fate by winning games and keeping their lead and fending off the Angels and Minnesota Twins for the second WC spot.
Of course, they'd much rather win the AL West outright, but that ship has probably sailed. "We would love to win the division," ace Dallas Keuchel said to McTaggart. "That was our main goal, but at the same time, any way you can push yourself into the playoffs is great. We'd much rather play a five-game [series] than one."
This weekend will be a big test for Houston as the club tries to fight and claw its way back to the level of play that made them a first-place team for much of the season. The Wild Card game is very much in play, but they have to make it happen.