Astros Face Potential “Catch 22” in Final Games

catch22

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22 of the last 25 games of the Houston Astros’ 2015 season are all against AL West division opponents. Unfortunately there is a potential for these last 25 games to blossom into an unwanted “Catch 22” if the club is so emotionally spent and exhausted by the time they conclude their final series at home against the Rangers that they virtually “forget” that their real season’s end does not conclude until they fly from Houston after a Sunday day game against their biggest rival, Texas, to play a 3-game series in Seattle against the Mariners – and then got Arizona to close all the windows against the NL West Diamondbacks.

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LAST 25 GAMES DAY DATE HOME AWAY
1 MON 9/07/15 OAK
2 TUE 9/08/15 OAK
3 WED 9/09/15 OAK
NO GAME THU 9/10/15
4 FRI 9/11/15 LAA
5 SAT 9/12/15 LAA
6 SUN 9/13/15 LAA
7 MON 9/14/15 TEX
8 TUE 9/15/15 TEX
9 WED 9/16/15 TEX
10 THU 9/17/15 TEX
11 FRI 9/18/15 OAK
12 SAT 9/19/15 OAK
13 SUN 9/20/15 OAK
14 MON 9/21/15 LAA
15 TUE 9/22/15 LAA
16 WED 9/23/15 LAA
NO GAME THU 9/24/15
17 FRI 9/25/15 TEX
18 SAT 9/26/15 TEX
19 SUN 9/27/15 TEX
20 MON 9/28/15 SEA
21 TUE 9/29/15 SEA
22 WED 9/30/15 SEA
NO GAME THU 10/01/15
23 FRI 10/02/15 ARZ
24 SAT 10/03/15 ARZ
25 SUN 10/04/15 ARZ

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This featured chart on the last 25 opponent games of the 2015 Houston Astros is simply a model of something I’ve been doing on pennant races since I was kid fan of the old Houston Buffs. For whatever reason, it’s always been easier for me to get a better big picture perspective on the linear time challenge to my club as it moves down the stretch from this kind of display.

It was true for me with the Buffs. It is true for me with the Astros now. And this one could evolve or devolve – and be everything from a down to the wire melodrama to a sudden surge by one of the three contenders into a runaway that leaves the other two contending clubs in the dust.

For now, Thursday, September 3, 2015, the Astros remain in first place, now only 2 games ahead of the Rangers, but still appearing good enough to take the division race, but the feeling persists that the Rangers are a team of both the talent and the momentum that could allow them to blow their way by the Astros in their final 7 head-to-head games, especially with the first four starting as a series in Arlington. The Angels appear to be hanging in there by the thread of their powerful twins, Trout and Pujols, but they seem lacking in the kind of pitching and team cohesion needed that has not been their hallmark this season. They still have enough expensive raw talent to hit a hot streak and get back into the race.

The Astros begin this “Catch 22 potential” phase of season’s end with a 10-game road trip to three cities that concludes with 7 games at the home parks of their two biggest foes, the Angels and Rangers. The schedule-makers could not have planned the drama any better – at least, at this junction. – What happens at the very end is a potential nightmare for the Astros.

Then, the Astros come home for 9 games against those same three clubs, in the same dramatic order: first Oakland, then Los Angeles, and finally, Texas. So far, so good, but the potential trick to the schedule is at hand.

Putting it simply, it’s the fact that Texas is neither the last shoot out nor the first dance of sweet victory opportunity for the Astros. After the last Texas game, the Astros have to fly all the way to Seattle to start a three-game series against the same Mariners club that just took them 2 out of 3 in a rare series loss at home for for Houston. And that series starts on Monday, the very next day after the Rangers series in Houston. Meanwhile, the Rangers go home to Arlington after the Astros series to play lowly and uninspired Detroit the three games after a short flight back to North Texas and home cooking.

After Seattle, and the conclusion of their final 22 games against AL West foes, the Astros fly to Phoenix for a Thursday off before starting a 3-game, Friday thru Sunday, weekend series against the NL West Arizona Diamondbacks to end their season. During the same final games time frame, the Rangers will conclude their season at home with a 4-game, Thursday thru Sunday, against the other NL West contender, the Los Angeles Angels.

And there’s the big potential “catch 22” for the Astros. If all the three AL West contenders are fairly even by Thursday, October 1st, the Astros could be hurt by either a Rangers or Angels sweep of the other. The Astros must win this last 6-game road trip at a time they will really need to hope, one-day-at-a-time, that it can be by a sweep of both Seattle and Arizona.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

Where’s Craig Biggio when we really need another dose of his “baseball’s a long season that you have to take one game at a time” speech?

If the Astros cannot heed the wisdom of their sole pure Houston Hall of Famer, the danger exists that they could become so focused on the last home series with Texas that they cannot avoid a letdown from emotional and physical exhaustion – and they could become vulnerable to going flat in Seattle and Phoenix – and losing everything they have worked for this year in a season-ending 6-game road trip of games against two out-of-the-running clubs.

Let’s hope and trust that Astros Manager A. J. Hinch is already on top of this potential Houston dead zone trap in this season’s schedule. We know that this sort of thing on any schedule is close to impossible to avoid, but we also have to wonder sometimes too: How much flying experience do these MLB schedule-makers have under their own belts? And how much do they appreciate how difficult flight plans play into a travel team’s preparedness for even-field competition with a rested home club?

My guess is, that these kinds of questions rarely come up – or if they do – that they are quickly dumped into the “everything evens out for all clubs in the long run” file.

Go Astros. And stay up and ready. One game at a time.

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