b The Longhorn Mafia <$BlogRSDURL$>

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Astros: Closer Every Day 

I keep hearing the "they have three teams ahead of them" argument for why Houston still is on the outside of the Wild Card race looking in. Yes, it's true that Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco remain ahead of the Astros, but the lead has shrunk to three games (with Florida and Houston tied for fourth).

The leaders' respective schedules also seem to indicate that it doesn't matter whose ahead, as long as Houston keeps winning. Here's a look at each of the five teams' roads for September:

Houston: 30 games left (15 home, 15 road)
3/1 v. Cincinnatti
3/5 v. Pittsburgh
3/3 v. Milwaukee
3/3 v. St. Louis
0/3 v. San Francisco
3/0 v. Colorado

Chicago: 30 games left (16 home, 14 road)
3/1 v. Montreal
3/3 v. Florida
3/3 v. Pittsburgh
4/4 v. Cincinnatti
0/3 v. New York
3/0 v. Atlanta

San Francisco: 28 games left (14 home, 14 road)
2/2 v. Colorado
3/3 v. Arizona
0/3 v. Milwaukee
3/3 v. San Diego
3/3 v. Los Angeles
3/0 v. Houston

San Diego: 31 games left (15 home, 16 road)
3/2 v. St. Louis
3/4 v. Colorado
3/4 v. Los Angeles
3/3 v. Arizona
3/3 v. San Francisco

Florida: 32 games left (17 home, 15 road)
3/2 v. New York
3/3 v. Chicago
5/3 v. Montreal
3/3 v. Atlanta
3/4 v. Philadelphia

Looking at these schedules, two things jump out at me: (a) The Padres and the Giants get to beat the hell out of each other, while also getting home-and-homes with division-leading LA, and (b) the Cubs get a chance to feast on bad teams before a season-ending series with the Braves.

San Fran's next thirteen games pit them against also-rans, so I'm semi-expecting to see them overtake the Cubs by mid-September. But, with fifteen straight against contenders down the stretch, I think that they'll fade. San Diego gets to mix their tough games in with the easier ones, though "easy" is a misnomer. There are no easy games when you're fighting for a playoff spot.

Florida is a team that no one's talking about, but they're an intriguing club to me. Like Houston, they've won eight of their last ten to climb back into the race, and also like Houston this past weekend, Florida can gain more ground with upcoming series against Chicago. By this time next week, Florida will either be eliminated or they'll have created an even closer five-way logjam atop the Wild Card standings.

Unless either SF or SD gets hot and rumbles through the NL West intra-division showdown, I don't think either will win the Wild Card. And I'm not sure that the thin-skinned Cubs have the mental toughness to sustain a month-long grind to the postseason. They actually remind me of Houston last year -- a slim lead going into September, but you knew down deep that they didn't have the juice to pull it out.

Could we be looking at the Astros and Marlins deciding this thing? As crazy as it sounds, I get the feeling that might be exactly what happens.


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