With the caveat that we hope they haven’t peaked too early, the Astros have quite simply astounded fans and detractors alike over the past three days, sweeping the Rangers in Arlington in historic fashion. Wednesday afternoon, the final score was 12-2, the days before that it was 14-3 and 11-2. And while yesterday’s victory over Texas might well be explained as the final surrender of a team that no longer had playoff hopes, it also provided a chance for the Astros’ newest ace, Justin Verlander, to demonstrate yet again his signature preternatural calm on the mound, even as he struck out 11 batters and gave up just 2 runs in his fifth start for Houston.
And there was plenty more to celebrate, including Jose Altuve’s single in the first inning, which marked his 200th hit this year, the fourth year in a row in which the second baseman has accomplished the feat. Then there was the matter of Carlos Correa’s performance, which seemed to sweep aside, once and for all, any lingering doubts about how the 23-year-old shortstop would play post-injury. Correa notched two home runs in yesterday’s game, along with a double and a single, driving in four of the ‘Stros’ runs.
And if there’s any happier sight in the world than George Springer hitting a grand slam, we haven’t seen it.
The Rangers having been swiftly dispatched, the ‘Stros jetted off to Boston for their final series of the regular season, still somehow trailing the Cleveland Indians by one game in their mini-duel for No. 1 seed in the American League. The Sox have more at stake than the Astros, as the team is struggling mightily to hold off a late-season effort by the Yankees to win the American League East. As of today, New York is three games back and will play three of its last four games on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays, who may well be the most important team not making the playoffs this year. Not only have they won 4 out of their last 6, two of those wins came against the Red Sox and two against the Yankees.
The AL East is the only division not yet decided in the MLB. Cleveland and Houston won theirs in the American League, while the LA Dodgers, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs have emerged victorious in the National League. Two Wild Card playoff teams have also been decided, one in each League (the Minnesota Twins in the American, the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National). Still unknown are the second Wild Card team from the National (most likely the Colorado Rockies or the Milwaukee Brewers, though the St. Louis Cardinals still have a slim chance), and the second Wild Card from the American (either the Yankees or the Red Sox).
So again, the stakes could hardly be higher for the Red Sox in the days ahead, which means they will likely throw everything they’ve got against the Astros when the series begins tonight. The ‘Stros still have a shot at running down the Indians, so don’t expect much let-up from them either. On the other hand, as the season stands now, Houston and Boston stand a very good chance at meeting a few days after the season ends, in the Division Series (which in any event will begin in Houston on Oct. 5). As a result, expect a few efforts by both sides to withhold some pitching and offensive firepower, thus avoiding revealing the best of what each team has to offer. Dallas Keuchel and Verlander will likely not pitch starts, and neither will Boston aces Chris Sale or Drew Pomeranz.
It should be an interesting, if strange, four days.