Athletics and Astros Knotted Up Atop AL West

The Oakland A’s have been the feel-good story of baseball this season and have been able to surge all the way to the top of the AL West with the Houston Astros.

The Astros beat Oakland on Sunday to regain sole possession of first place, but Oakland briefly tied the defending champs atop the division over the weekend when they won the first two games of a three-game set, one of which on a walk-off home run by Matt Olson in extra innings.

While Houston retains their lead for now, Oakland has been the hottest team in baseball for a while. It looks, at the moment, like they will move past them permanently soon enough, with how much winning they’ve done lately and sitting just a game behind.

Houston, conversely, has struggled due, in large part, to injuries to key players on the roster. Carlos Correa is still banged up and getting his timing right since returning from injury. Reigning MVP Jose Altuve is still out with an injury, Lance McCullers is on the shelf, along with Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, and Chris Devenski, arguably their best reliever.

Oakland currently sits four games back of the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot, and I expect the Yankees to maintain that spot while they have the second best record in baseball. Whichever of the teams, between Oakland and Houston, ends up as the bottom Wild Card team will almost certainly have to travel to New York for the one game playoff. I am not sure how equipped Oakland is to play a winner-take-all game, however most people have done a lot of doubting Oakland this year, so maybe I should stop thinking that.

I think most are in agreement that Houston, if even just mostly healthy, is very well-suited to play New York in a one game scenario. Houston would almost certainly throw Verlander in that game, and their rotation is so good that it almost doesn’t matter if they burn him and he has to be the last guy pitching in the ALDS.

Beyond Verlander, the Astros can roll out Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton. Keuchel is the only one having a relative down year, but he’s still been good and Charlie Morton’s season is making up for it. With those front four in the playoffs and, presumably, Lance McCullers being a multi-inning weapon out of the pen, the Astros can compete with anyone else’s starting pitching, which is the biggest thing when you are in a winner-take-all game. Houston has a top-to-bottom lineup, too, when healthy. If I’m the Yankees, I really hope to play Oakland rather than Houston if it is a one-game playoff, particularly with Verlander as the probable starter and McCullers as the likely first guy out of the bullpen, both of whom have killed the Yankees.

That’s still about six weeks away. For now, we are being treated to a fantastic division race in the AL West, with both teams gunning to avoid a trip to the Bronx.

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