California Collapse Dooms Division Hopes
Final Two Weeks Feature Sub-.500 Teams

Astros suffer a 'bad hair' week
(c) Associated Press
First of all, let's congratulate the Oakland A's for a fine season and for winning the 2020 A.L. West Division title fair and square. Although eight of the ten head-to-head games with the Astros were in their home park, Oakland beat Houston in seven of those eight contests and always seemed to have one more clutch hit or one more big out than Houston had.

The Golden State was a rude host to the Astros this year as Houston dropped 13 of 17 overall games on California soil, including five of seven this past week, dropping the Astros below .500 at 23-24 and 6-1/2 games behind the Athletics with two weeks left in the regular season.

By far the most satisfying game of the road trip happened Saturday in Los Angeles when the seemingly punchless Astros came to life in the ninth inning to score five times and stun the Dodgers, 7-5. Houston has given away far more ninth innings this year than they've taken, part of the reason they are in their current predicament.

With the expanded playoff format negotiated after the 60-game regular season was announced, the Astros are still alive for a playoff berth so long as they hold onto second place in the division. After all the second-place teams are seeded, there will be two more A.L. teams added with the best records of the remaining clubs. That last option probably won't help the Spacemen unless they close on a hot streak.

Surprising Seattle (21-25) lurks just 1-1/2 games back of the Astros for second in the division and they would seem to be better motivated than Houston, which has acted at times as if they've lost interest in finishing the season.

The pitchers, other than Zack Greinke, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, have had a tough time staying healthy despite just a two-month season, leaving Dusty Baker to daily juggle his roster just to field a working lineup. After returning from L.A. on Monday, Baker announced that infielder Aledmys Diaz had reinjured his quad and first baseman Yuli Gurriel is also banged up. Both are expected to miss the Tuesday series opener against the Rangers at Minute Maid as the Astros begin their final six-game homestand.

Star third baseman Alex Bregman returned to action but admits his timing at the plate is off. Pending free agents George Springer and Michael Brantley appear to be tuning up their games while Carlos Correa and rookie Kyle Tucker cooled off in California.

After the Rangers series (Tuesday through Thursday), the Arizona Diamondbacks will come in for the final home series before the regular season closes with three crucial games in Seattle and four in Arlington.

Say, I wonder how the Astros will handle Fan Appreciation Day this year? Maybe the first thousand fans to be turned away at the gate on Sunday can receive a free 2019 American League Champion Astros COVID mask courtesy of the Methodist Hospital. That should be a keepsake. They won't be able to attend the game but they can still have a momento that can be handed down to future generations.

As hopeless as the situation sounds, the Astros could make a run, get healthy and be a real pest in the A.L. playoffs, especially if reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander returns. A short-series rotation of Greinke, Verlander and Valdez could still do some damage if there are enough bats clicking.

Isn't that like what the Nationals did last year?

-Bob Hulsey