How the Houston Astros Switching Leagues Has Impacted the 1st Half
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The Houston Astros are on pace for history. Almost.
At 32-59 through Wednesday's games, Houston projects to win just 57 games this year. Amazingly, that's a higher win total than what the Astros managed in either of the past two seasons: They won 55 in 2012 and 56 in 2011.
On the other side of 57 wins, of course, would come a whopping 105 losses. Only one other franchise in the history of Major League Baseball—the New York Mets from 1962-1965—has lost at least 106 games in three straight seasons.
Meaning, by "picking up" their pace by just one loss somewhere along the way between now and the end of 2013, the Astros could join the Mets.
Hey, misery loves company.
But that's only taking into account how Houston has fared since switching from the National League over to the American League this season. The Astros' league swap has impacted—and will continue to impact—more than just themselves. A heck of a lot more.
Like the entire AL, the entire NL, especially the Central, and, well, all of baseball.
The AL East Impact
Because the Astros joined the Junior Circuit, they obviously play more games against teams in that league now than when they were in the Senior Circuit. And because Houston is so lousy, those extra matchups should, in theory, help its now-fellow AL clubs notch extra wins against it. Obviously, this sort of thing can and will affect playoff races.
Since all five teams in the AL East are still in the postseason mix, here's a look at each club's overall record and its wins and losses against the Astros:
Note: Under the "Vs. Astros" columns, the green indicates good (i.e., the team with the best record against Houston so far this year or the team with the most matchups left against it), while the red indicates bad.
- The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays get seven games against the Astros—one more than the Baltimore Orioles or New York Yankees get. And Boston, in particular, has taken advantage by starting out 4-0 versus Houston so far.
- The Yanks, though, finish the season with a three-game set at Houston, so if the AL East is still as bunched up as it is heading into the final weekend, the Yanks could have an edge as they try to squeeze into a playoff position.
- The Jays, you'll notice, have yet to play any of their seven games against Houston, but since they're so far back from the pack, they'll really need to make 'em count. A 6-1 season series win could help Toronto climb back in.
The AL Central Impact
Since only three teams in the AL Central are really still in the playoff hunt, here's a look those clubs' overall records and their wins and losses against the Astros:
- The Detroit Tigers are done beating up on the Astros, and they did what they were supposed to do, going 6-1. In fact, the four extra wins Detroit has picked up against Houston compared to the Cleveland Indians is arguably the difference between first and second place in this division to this point.
- Like the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals are finished with the Astros, but Kansas City got one fewer game versus Houston. Not a big difference, obviously, but the Royals need all the help they can get.
- Cleveland has seven matchups with the 'Stros, just like Detroit, but the Indians still have four at home in late September, so if they can hang in with the Tigers until then, things could get interesting down the stretch.
The AL West Impact
Now this is where things get really interesting. Each fellow AL West club, after all, gets 19 contests at its disposal to try to dominate the Astros. That's where some real headway can be made, if the intradivision squads don't mess up.
Since only three teams in the AL West can conservatively be considered part of the postseason picture, here's a look those clubs' overall records and their wins and losses against the Astros:
- The A's have just pwned—yes, pwned—the Astros this year, with an undefeated 9-0 mark so far. No wonder Oakland is in first place.
- It's not like the Rangers, though, haven't taken advantage of Houston. But with just a half-game separating Texas and Oakland, the Rangers' two losses to the Astros accounts for the difference. These two clubs still have 10 games apiece versus Houston too, so the West may well be won by the team that takes it out on the 'Stros.
- Slow start aside, the Angels have only themselves to blame for still being under .500: They've played four more games against Houston than any other team in baseball, yet they are only 7-6 against the worst club around.
The NL Central Impact
Moving over to the other league, we're only going to take a quick look at all five remaining teams in the NL Central—a.k.a., Houston's former home. These squads no longer get to play the 'Stros 19 times apiece—the Cardinals get 'em four times, while the other four teams play 'em thrice—so let's see what they're missing out on.
Here, then, is a look at their overall records and their wins and losses against the Astros:
- The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have both finished up their Astros matchups, and while it's only one game, St. Louis managed to use that fourth game against Houston to bank an extra win—on Wednesday night, in fact—than Pittsburgh did versus the Astros. With the two clubs separated by a game-and-a-half, every win counts.
- The Cincinnati Reds still have all three of their Houston games to come, which could help them stick right with the two teams ahead of them in the division.
- Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the NL Central sports three of the top records in MLB—even without getting to face the Astros 19 times each. It's pretty clear to this point that the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are doing more than fine without the Astros to beat up on. Just imagine what their overall records would be if Houston were still around.
The Draft Impact
Right now, the Astros have the worst record in the sport—by a a game-and-a-half over the Miami Marlins—which would put them in position to possibly have the No. 1 pick for an unprecedented third straight season.
(The MLB draft only started in 1965, so it wasn't around the whole time in the early-to-mid-1960s when those Mets teams were losing 109 or more games four straight seasons from 1962-1965.)
Oddly enough, back-to-back No. 1 picks has happened only three times in history, all within the past seven drafts: Aside from the Astros this year and last, the Rays in 2007-2008 and Nationals in 2009-2010 are the only others.
If the Astros were still in the NL Central, remember, they might even have a worse record than they do now, as the Cards, Pirates and Reds could have given them a handful of more losses. That would have separated the 'Stros from the Fish by a bit more in the quest for the top pick in 2014.
It's also worth wondering if the Cubs and/or Brewers would have slightly better records, and thus a worse overall draft position, if Houston were still in its old division. So the Astros' departure also could help Chicago and Milwaukee be draft winners by being win-loss record losers.
Will the Astros join the Mets as the only teams to lose 106 or more games three years in a row?
The Interleague Impact
While it might not be a major factor for some fans, the league, no doubt, must have noticed that interleague play attendance has dropped this year.
As mentioned here earlier this week, this may in some part be due to MLB's decision to shift the 'Stros to the AL to balance out both leagues with 15 teams apiece. The odd number in each circuit makes it impossible for all 30 teams to be in action on one day without at least one interleague game on the docket.
This near-daily interleague play has spread the once-popular games out over the course of the entire season, which means they're more likely to get lost in the shuffle of everyday play.
That's not exactly the Houston Astros' fault, but when a team is as bad as it has been, blame has a funny way of finding you.
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