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Elephant Rumblings: Houston Astros still haven’t clinched postseason spot

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Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels
Springer watches a homer by Trout
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Good morning, Athletics Nation!

The Oakland A’s have clinched the AL West division crown, and the only question left is who they’ll play in the best-of-three Wild Card Round at the Coliseum next week.

If the A’s hold their current No. 2 seed or move up to No. 1, then they’ll face a Wild Card (third-place) team, which could be anyone including the Indians, White Sox, or Twins, or maaaybe the Blue Jays or Yankees but probably not.

If Oakland finishes No. 3, then they’ll play the worst second-place club, which will definitely come from the AL West. Until now, the obvious assumption has held that the Houston Astros are locked into that runner-up spot and the No. 6 seed. After all, the defending American League champs can’t move up the standings at all, either in the division or among the other second-place clubs. They’re at their mathematical ceiling.

But wait! There is another direction in the standings: Down. And the Astros haven’t sealed off that exit yet.

With their loss to the Mariners on Wednesday, Houston fell to exactly .500 at 28-28, and their lead over the third-place Angels shrank to just 2.5 games. That’s with four left to play for the Astros, and three for the Angels, and the Halos holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. The season ends on Sunday and Houston still hasn’t actually clinched their spot, with a magic number of two remaining.

Furthermore, the Astros are struggling hard right now. Over their last 20 games they’re 7-13, and even if you remove all the A’s and Dodgers matchups from that span they’d still be just 5-8 against the dregs of the West. Over their last 16 games they’re batting .200/.262/.332, though their pitching has been alright despite all of their pitchers being hurt.

Of course, this is still Houston’s race to lose. They control their own destiny, and if they win two out of three against the Rangers this weekend then they’ll clinch.

But meanwhile, the Angels will be up against a Dodgers team that has nothing left to play for. And whatever amount you might think the Dodgers would like to play spoiler for their cross-town rival, they might just have even bigger beef to settle with the Astros. Would anyone be surprised to see the Halos sweep this weekend, while the Dodgers toss out three full-on bullpen games or something? (Remember, L.A. has two full rest days before their playoffs start Wednesday, so they can ease off of their rotation without worrying about tiring out their pen.)

Entering the season, the question was whether the A’s could catch the Astros to win the division. Now it’s whether Houston can even hold on to second place, or miss the playoffs entirely in a year when over half of all teams make it. It’s been a blast seeing the Angels annually fall short of October despite having Mike Trout and piles of cash, but it would be worth it for them to make it in this case, to embarrass the national villain Astros. Go Angels?

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To quantify the extent to which Bird can’t catch a break, consider: He’s been in the majors since 2015 (six seasons) and hasn’t even played 200 MLB games yet despite consistently replacement-level production in his early-20s. In that time, he’s gone on the 60-day IL three times for three different body parts (shoulder, right ankle, left foot).