(SportsRadio 610) - The wild, wild American League West is getting so wild it’s making Major League Baseball history.
The Astros, Rangers and Mariners won on Wednesday, leaving Houston with a one-half game lead over Texas and Seattle.
For the first time since division play was implemented in 1969, three teams from the same division are within one-half game of each other with 10 or fewer games to play, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
How’s that for excitement?
The Astros used to be so boring running away with the AL West, forcing fans to yawn while waiting for the playoffs. Not this season!
The Astros (85-68), Rangers (84-68) and Mariners (84-68) are involved in one of the most exciting finishes in baseball history. Three could make the playoffs, or it could be just the division winner since the others could fall out of the wild card race altogether.
If the playoffs started today, here’s what the American League schedule would look like:
The Orioles and Astros would have first-round byes. In the two-of-three wild card round, the Rangers would play at Minnesota, and the Blue Jays would visit Tampa Bay.
In the best-of-five ALDS, the winner of the Rangers-Twins series would play at Houston. The winner of the Jays-Rays series would play at Baltimore.
Unfortunately for the Astros, the playoffs don’t start today. Fortunately for the Astros, they managed to avoid getting swept at home by the Orioles, earning a 2-1, walk-off victory that helped them cling to the division lead.
The Astros, Rangers and Mariners are off on Thursday. When they return Friday, here’s how the race stacks up over the remainder of the season: The Astros, 8-9 in September and an embarrassing 6-13 in their last 19 at Minute Maid Park, host Kansas City for three games and play their last six on the road against Seattle and Arizona. Like the Mariners, the Diamondbacks are also competing for a playoff berth.
The Mariners play three at Texas before closing at home with three games against the Astros and four against the Rangers. The Astros own the tiebreaker over Texas. The Mariners have the tiebreaker over the Astros.
The Astros – 4-6 over their last 10 games -- have lost three of their last four series at Minute Maid Park, where they are 39-39 for the season. Despite their pathetic performance at home and their dismal September, FanGraphs still has the Astros with a 50.8 percent chance to win the division and a 12.5 chance to win the World Series – third behind the Braves (29.1) and the Dodgers (13.1).
Beginning Friday, the Astros need to snap out of their lethargy at home when they entertain the Royals, who just humiliated them by winning two of three in Kansas City.
The Royals (51-102) are the second-worst team in baseball, and their road record is 20-55. There’s no excuse for the Astros to not get revenge by sweeping Kansas City before heading to Seattle. Going on the road might not be so bad considering they’re 46-29 away from Minute Maid Park.
Dusty Baker has Framber Valdez (12-10, 3.20), J.P. France (11-5, 3.84) and Hunter Brown (11-12, 4.87) starting against the Royals. Brown has been struggling big time. Justin Verlander (5-3, 3.93 since the trade), Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.64) and Valdez should go against the Mariners.
The most encouraging thing about Wednesday’s victory over the Orioles – achieved on Mauricio Dubon’s single that drove in Yainer Diaz – was Javier’s performance. He actually turned back the clock to last season when he was almost unhittable at times. Better late than never, right?
Against the Orioles, who are trying to keep the Rays from overtaking them for the AL East title, Javier threw 91 pitches, 62 for strikes, tied a season-high with 11 strikeouts, allowed three hits, two walks and one run. His fastball was moving like 2022.
In his previous 14 starts, Javier’s ERA was 6.99. Whether Wednesday was an aberration or a sign that he’s finally arrived in 2023 will be determined over the last nine games and the playoffs – if the Astros reach postseason for a seventh consecutive season.
The bullpen, with Hector Neris, Kendall Graveman, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly, was outstanding in that afternoon victory over Baltimore. Pressly, who blew the first game of the series by surrendering a three-run homer, allowed fans a big sigh of relief after an outing that produced three up and three down – vintage Pressly from previous seasons.
The last game against the Orioles was an indication of what the Astros used to be and what they could become. They’ve had inconsistent starting pitching, head-scratching hitting, base-running errors, a lack of effort running out ground balls and fielding problems.
It’s for them to put their issues in the rearview mirror and get serious about the last nine games, beginning with a revenge victory over the Royals on Friday night.
No more embarrassing defeats. And no more of this stumbling and bumbling and staggering to the finish line while hoping the Rangers and Mariners beat each other senseless, giving the Astros an opportunity to steal the AL West title.
It should be a Fantastic Finish.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.