Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has one of those security cameras at his home he can access remotely. That’s how he watched parts of Hurricane Harvey pass through his neighborhood, how he monitored his small slice of the catastrophe alongside that of the massive destruction and tragedy elsewhere, from a booth behind home plate at Angel Stadium.
Everyone in Houston and beyond will have their stories, the tick-tock of where they were when, how they carried on, how they tried to make it a little better, a little more bearable, for the person standing next to them. We can hope.
So with that, Luhnow’s Astros trudged off to St. Petersburg, Florida, to continue their baseball season, and contributed money to the organizations that aid in the rescues and recovery and rehabilitation of their town. They also lent their hearts, in words and deeds and tears, in the shared experience of helplessness. That means something.
Baseball can’t solve this, however, not by a long shot. Any conversation that includes, “Yeah, but the Astros won,” is to fail to grasp what is happening there, along with all that lay ahead. And so the dust-up over where the Astros are and when, be it Dallas or St. Pete or wherever, and the possible impact it would have on tomorrow, simply fails to recognize the gravity of today.
They’ll play baseball somewhere. That’s fine. The Astros will win or lose, but probably win. It’s what they do. They’ll return soon enough to gather some of the community in one place to get away from it all, if not to forget about it all, and that will be fine, too. One day life will feel something like normal again for most, but not for everyone. We’re a long way from that. Remember the part about it not being normal for some ever.
In the meantime, shouting at other people for where a baseball game will or will not be played, calling them names, wasting that energy, feeding that anger, is pointless. It is not the time. It is not the place.
It’s just baseball, man.
The baseball part. Amid the conflicting tugs from the job and the real life, the Astros are becoming a healthier team. His expectation for adding a significant player at the waiver deadline, Luhnow said, is “very low.” So, no Justin Verlander, it would seem. No horse for the bullpen. Instead, shortstop Carlos Correa will return from a thumb injury. Lance McCullers Jr. will return from a back injury. Reliever Will Harris, who missed nearly two months because of a shoulder injury, returned Sunday. For three starts Dallas Keuchel has been dominant again, as has been Collin McHugh. A flat second half, including a dismal August, has given way to, yes, a very long road trip, but also to evidence the Astros will be whole in time for September and beyond. “We’re going to have a full complement of good players,” Luhnow said. “I think we’ve got the pieces we’ll need to be successful in the playoffs.” Given three divisions races qualify as boat races and a fourth could get there, we asked ourselves again what impact a run-away division win had on postseason outcome, if any. You’ll hear talk in a month about the Dodgers, Astros, Nationals and, maybe, the Indians having not played a game they had to win in, like, a year. So, we went back a decade and established a 10-game (or more) division title as the separator.
Leaving out all qualifiers (injuries, for one, and dumb luck, for another, a terrible rest of the division, too), we charted how those postseasons went. And, of course, immediately came to the last two teams to have won their divisions by at least 10 games. Those would be the Cubs last year and the Royals in 2015. You probably recall the parades. Prior to that, the Yankees of 1998 were the last team to have won a division by at least 10 games and finished the season as World Series champions. In the past decade, so to 2007, 12 teams have been run-away division winners, including those Cubs and Royals, and their combined record in those postseasons was 57-53, including 22-12 by the Cubs and Royals. So, for the rest, the mark was 35-41.
The most productive players in the second half by OPS (min. 50 PA):
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami 1.304
Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia 1.236
Charlie Blackmon, Colorado 1.182
Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia 1.142
Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs 1.080
Contreras hasn’t played in three weeks because of a hamstring injury. Herrera has missed the past two weeks, also because of a hamstring injury.
One last bit on the Astros-Rangers to-do: MLB’s recommendation to both teams was that the Astros play in Arlington as the home team this week, according to sources, leaving the September series alone. Astros rejected. So here we are. Onward …
From Friday to Sept. 14, the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will play seven times. They have split the first 12 in the season series.
We bring this up because what once might have appeared to be a coast to the wild-card finish has hit a bit of a headwind. The Brewers, Marlins and, charitably perhaps, Cardinals lurk.
If the Rockies and Diamondbacks continue along at .500 against each other, that could expose them both to trailing teams. If one gets hot, that obviously puts the other in peril.
Oddly, both play the Marlins over the final 10 days of the season. The Diamondbacks host them Sept. 22-24. Then the Marlins go to Colorado for three.
Friday: Taijuan Walker vs. Kyle Freeland
Saturday: Patrick Corbin vs. Jon Gray
Sunday: Zack Godley vs. Antonio Senzatela