(Editor's note: We'll analyze each team's postseason chances after it clinches a playoff berth.)
After leading the AL West for much of the season, the surprising Houston Astros finally punched their ticket to the postseason on Sunday. Though they lost their game to the Diamondbacks, the Angels also lost to the AL West champion Texas Rangers, sealing the deal for Houston.
As a result, A.J. Hinch's team made it into the playoffs and will play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game.
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It's been a (mostly) miraculous season in Houston, as the Astros blend of top-tier young talent and resilient starting pitching helped them "arrive'' a season earlier than many expected.
Now that they're in, how far can they go?
Why they can win the World Series: If the Astros are able to get past the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, anything can happen. They boast one of the AL's top Cy Young candidates in All-Star starter Dallas Keuchel, who finished the regular season 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA and an FIP of 2.91. They also rely heavily on the infield duo of Jose Altuve (reigning 2014 batting champion) and 21-year-old rookie Carlos Correa, who arrived earlier in the summer and is already a cornerstone player in the middle of the lineup. Though the team didn't play many games against the division-winning Blue Jays or Royals this season, they did have winning records (4-3 and 4-2, respectively) against each of the two clubs they might face should they advance. Houston will be hoping Toronto lays waste to the Rangers as the Astros went 6-13 against their interstate rival.
Why they can't win the World Series: The Astros effectively snuck up on us this season, and while they weren't able to hold on to their AL West division aspirations, the talent level was high enough to hold on to a wild-card spot. That said, there's reason to be concerned about the bullpen, which showed some cracks down the stretch (in a September in which the club went just 11-16). Keuchel and rotation mates Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers have been strong, but veteran Scott Kazmir has struggled with consistency since coming over from the Oakland Athletics. Who would pitch after Keuchel in an ALDS, and in what order? That's an important decision Hinch and his staff would have to make should the Astros get there.
In addition to their pitching concerns, the Astros' home run-heavy offense (230 long balls entering play Sunday) also strikes out a ton (1,378 to lead the AL). That feast-or-famine style might also be an issue in the playoffs, where home runs are usually at a premium.
However, Houston has proven the critics wrong all year and is now in the postseason. While it wouldn't be surprising if they fizzled out early, it also wouldn't be surprising if they continued their amazing run and went on a tear in October.