No slowing down: with 12 games left, the Astros have plenty to play for

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13396160z) Houston Astros’ Yordan Alvarez (44) celebrates with Kyle Tucker (30) after hitting a home run against the Oakland Athletics during the fifth inning of a baseball game, in Houston Athletics Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 16 Sep 2022

No slowing down: with 12 games left, the Astros have plenty to play for

The Astros punched their ticket to the MLB postseason on September 16th and then claimed another AL West division championship a few days later. At 99 wins already, they will reach the milestone of triple digits for the fourth time in the last five full regular seasons. 

Yet, they show no signs of slowing down or coasting into the playoffs, and that may be good or bad news for some of the teams on the outside looking in for their chance to play into October. 

Houston still has plenty to play for

While they haven’t officially locked up the best overall record in the American League yet, there’s no indication to suspect that Houston is capable of losing ten or more of their remaining games to let the Yankees come back. After clinching the division title again, they returned the next night after their celebration and blanked the Rays 5-0 en route to sweeping the three-game set in Tampa Bay. 

There are plenty of individual milestones left for Houston’s players to reach. Yordan Alvarez sits at 94 RBI, needing six more to get the 100-mark in back-to-back seasons, and at 37 homers, could get to 40, and is hovering above a .300 batting average which I’m sure he’d like to have maintained through the rest of the regular season. 

Jose Altuve, who hopefully will spend just one day out of the lineup after being hit by a pitch in Wednesday’s finale with the Rays, sits at 18 stolen bases needing just two more to get into the 20/20 club of stolen bags and homers (he already has 25 on the year). He’s also hitting .295, putting him within arm’s reach of finishing a season above .300 for the first time since 2018, when he finished his fifth-straight year with that mark. 

In terms of pitching, Justin Verlander, who will pitch in Thursday’s opener against the Orioles, is in line to get three more starts. With a 17-3 record, that leaves the door open for a 20-win season, further cementing his case for the Cy Young award if he hasn’t already clinched it in voters’ minds.

Framber Valdez, who has already set a single-season record of 25 consecutive quality starts, should get the chance to tie and surpass the overall record of 26 games in his final starts, a record that will be very hard to beat for pitchers in the future. 

Then, you have players making their final pushes before they head into free agency, trying to bolster their value. Verlander likely will not return on his $25 million contract option for 2023, likely to garner a ton of interest and get another valuable contract well above that mark. 

Aledmys Diaz is another, and he has put together a very strong back-half of 2022 to put on a strong audition for future teams. Yuli Gurriel, who has been with the Astros since coming up to the major leagues in 2016, will also be hitting the market at season’s end, but after a tremendous 2021, he has taken a step back but could use these final games to end on a high note. 

Their opponents have even more at stake

So, if the Astros will be trying to keep their momentum going into October and free agency in some cases, their remaining opponents will be trying even harder. 

Of their remaining twelve games, ten are against teams still in the Wild Card hunt. They’ll start with four against the Orioles Thursday night, who sit four games back of the Mariners for the final spot. Then, after a quick two-game set against the Diamondbacks, Houston will welcome in the Rays, who, despite having been swept by the Astros, still sit a half-game ahead of the Mariners for the second Wild Card Spot. 

Those seven games alone could significantly impact the AL postseason, with several teams in play for those three spots that would love to see the Astros open the door for some shakeup in the standings. Then, in the regular season’s final series, the Phillies will come to town, and they are also holding on to a slim advantage in the NL race for a Wild Card spot.

So, despite having their postseason positioning pretty much locked up, don’t expect the Astros to take their foot off the gas just yet. There’s still plenty to play for, for them and their opponents.  

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