The drought is over. For the first time since 2001, when they were still members of the National League Central, the Houston Astros have won a division championship.
The Astros clinched the AL West and secured their spot in the postseason with a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.
The wild race many anticipated in the AL West never materialized. That’s because the Astros exploded out of the gate, winning an AL-best 60 games before the All-Star break.
Despite an up and down second half, Houston never looked back in what’s still proven to be a competitive division. The Angels, Mariners and Rangers are all still in the wild-card hunt with two weeks to go, but the Astros are clearly on a different level.
The Astros join the surging Indians as the only two American League teams to punch their postseason ticket. Those two teams will now jockey for home-field advantage in the AL playoffs. The Dodgers and Nationals have clinched postseason berths in the National League, with the Dodgers seemingly headed for home-field throughout the entire postseason.
The Indians finished Sunday with a two game edge in the AL standings. Not that Astros manager A.J. Hinch is worried. In fact, he threw some shade at the Indians and their 22-game winning streak on Friday.
"Someone had to win 20-plus games in a row to even be relevant with us, so that tells you what kind of season we’re having."–A.J. Hinch
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) September 16, 2017
We try to not play favorites around here, but you can sign us up for that potential mega-ALCS.
Whether you consider Hinch’s comments confident or arrogant, the Astros don’t have to fear anyone on either side of the bracket. They will bring a star-studded roster that features a loaded lineup and a recently strengthened rotation thanks to the addition of Justin Verlander, who won the division-clinching game.
The bullpen remains a question mark. It enters the stretch run among the bottom three in ERA. That’s a weakness that opponents will aim to exploit in October. It will be a challenge for Hinch to put his relievers in the best position to succeed, but it gives him an opportunity to back up his confidence. One way or the other, he’ll be judged for the results.
Despite their postseason appearance in 2015 and despite the bullpen flaws, it feels like we’ve now entered the prime spot where their championship window is wide open. The only question now is will they take advantage?
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