The landscape has changed in the American League West, and as a result the Seattle Mariners may have to take aim at a different target.
The Mariners have spent the past month in a battle with the Oakland Athletics for the AL’s second wild card playoff berth. The combination of Oakland’s surge and Seattle’s swoon saw the Mariners go from having a a three-game lead over the A’s at the All-Star break to having a 3.5-game deficit to begin the week.
While those trends seem to be bad news for Seattle, another team has come back into play. At the All-Star break the Houston Astros were comfortably in first place in the division, leading the Mariners by five games and the A’s by eight. But the Astros have lost seven of their past nine, including a four-game sweep at home at the hands of Seattle.
As a result, here’s the standings heading into Monday night’s action:
AL WEST STANDINGS
So the three-way race for two playoff berths has tightened. And while the Mariners remain the odd-team out if the season ended today, they now have two teams they can try to reel in.
There’s a lot of head-to-head action between the three teams down the stretch, too. Here’s a look at each team’s remaining schedule (remaining strength of schedule is based on FanGraphs.com’s calculations):
HOUSTON (38) — @Sea (3), @LAA (3), Oak (3), LAA (4), Min (3), @Bos (3), @Det (3), Ari (3), Sea (3), LAA (3), @Tor (3), @Bal (4).
Home games: 19.
Remaining strength of schedule: .492.
OAKLAND (38) — Tex (3), @Min (4), @Hou (3), Sea (4), NYY (3), Tex (3), @Bal (3), @TB (3), LAA (3), Min (3), @Sea (3), @LAA (3).
Home games: 19.
Remaining strength of schedule: .502.
SEATTLE (37) — Hou (3), @Ari (3), @SD (2), @Oak (4), Bal (3), NYY (3), SD (2), @LAA (4), @Hou (3), @Tex (3), Oak (3), Tex (4).
Home games: 18.
Remaining strength of schedule: .513.
This suggests the Mariners have a tough task ahead, as not only do they have a deficit to make up, their remaining schedule is rated the most difficult of the three. But with seven games remaining against Oakland and six against Houston, Seattle has plenty of opportunity to do the work itself and not have to rely on outside help.
Oakland is certainly the team with momentum, having gone an astounding 40-14 since June 15. Meanwhile, Houston is just 8-13 since reaching a season-high 31 games above .500 on 21. So even though the Astros still hold a slim lead in the division, maybe Houston is the likelier team for Seattle to catch.
That said, the Astros have been dealing with a rash of injuries to key players in recent weeks. When the Mariners opened their series in Houston on Aug. 9 the Astros were without Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer because of injury, and the absence of those players surely played a role in Houston’s recent struggles. Well, Correa and Springer are back, while Altuve could return for Tuesday’s game in Seattle. Given that Altuve is the reigning AL MVP, his return should provide the Astros a big boost.
So which team do you think Seattle has a better chance of catching? Vote here: