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Image: Dan Page

The Astros refuse to fly quietly into the night. On Monday, it was Marwin Gonzalez delivering the tie-breaking, two-run single in the ninth inning. George Springer matched him 24 hours later, knocking in the winning run in extras. Though beat reporters had essentially left them for dead, Houston has now won five of six, crawling within two games of the second wild card spot in the American League (with 11 to play) and tripling their playoff odds in the course of a week (23.4 percent, entering Wednesday’s game). “No one's really panicking," Tony Sipp told the AP. “Everyone's just having fun this last stretch."

Obviously, you wouldn’t risk your mortgage on a one-in-four bet, so we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. That said, the Astros’ schedule does line up favorably. Of all 30 teams in Major League Baseball, only the Yankees have an easier late-September calendar, according to the new "Strength of Remaining Schedule" formula at Baseball Prospectus. And Baltimore, one of two teams Houston is chasing in the standings, faces the sixth toughest.

To survive, they’ll need to scratch and claw with a depleted roster. Third baseman Alex Bregman has made a wicked first impression, landing in the second spot on Jim Callis’ list of rookies with the most long-term value, but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined until October. Neither Dallas Keuchel nor Lance McCullers will be cleared to pitch before the postseason begins either, the former with shoulder inflammation and the latter with a sprained elbow.

And if the team comes up short, it’s that shaky pitching staff Astros fans can (and should) blame. In 2016, the Twins and the Angles, both cellar dwellers, were the only two AL clubs whose starters have posted a worse Wins Above Average rate (via Baseball Reference). Doug Fister walked too many, Mike Fiers struck out too few, and McCullers pitched a measly 81 total innings. All-world Jose Altuve and the mid-season roster additions could only compensate for so much.

But cheer up, ‘Stros fans: isn't next year the one you’ve been waiting for, anyhow?

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