There were a variety of reactions when news broke that the Houston Astros would be moving from the National League Central to the American League West in time for the 2013 regular season. Most generally, a lot of people were pleased Major League Baseball would finally achieve league and divisional balance after years of being weird. Many other people worried about the potential consequences of regular interleague play. Astros fans were annoyed, since their team would have to make a big change from decades of franchise history. Fans of other teams in the AL West licked their chops, since — at least in the short-term — the Astros were supposed to be terrible. And fans of other American League teams in the were annoyed, like Astros fans, since the league shift and unbalanced schedule would give the West an advantage. The presence of the Astros in the West stood to give that division a leg up in the race for wild cards.
Sometimes, the projections are way off. This year’s Washington Nationals were supposed to be a potential juggernaut, and right now they’re fighting to remain a .500 team. But sometimes the projections are right on. This year’s Astros have been dreadful, even more so as they’ve trimmed salary and reduced payroll. By FIP, Astros pitchers have collectively been a little below replacement-level. As a team, the team has a lower WAR than Marlon Byrd. The Astros have been more or less as bad as people thought, so, to what extent have they actually influenced the American League playoff race? Have they played a meaningful part?
Yes. Yes, they have played a meaningful part in shaping the current AL playoff race. It’s pretty easy to see how. The Houston, so far, has played 16 games against the Rangers, and they’ve gone 2-14. The Astros played 15 games against the A’s, and they’ve gone 3-12. The Rangers and A’s are tied atop the AL West, meaning they’re also tied for one of the two wild-card slots. Incidentally, the Astros have gone 9-7 in 16 games against the Angels, and the Angels were supposed to be a big-time contender. Just about half the gap between the Angels and the Rangers is explained by head-to-head success against the worst team in baseball. Even when baseball is predictable, it isn’t.
Anyway, the Astros have played some games against every contender in the American League, and here’s how those standings shake out:
Shown are the contenders, their wins against the Astros, their losses against the Astros and the resulting standings. You’re free to apply these numbers to the overall league standings should that interest you.
AL contenders vs. Astros, 2013
One thing the Astros have done is boost the Oakland’s and Texas’ odds of getting home-field advantage in the first round. The two clubs are still behind both the Red Sox and the Tigers, but the gaps are closer than they might be otherwise. But, mostly, this is about the wild cards, and it’s evident how the Astros have mattered. Because the Rangers and A’s have both beat up on the Astros, they’ve pulled well in front of the wild-card competition.
Before the season’s start, it appeared the Astros could give teams in the West a boost by a game or two or three. That’s what we see now, Angels excepted, as the Rays would actually have the best wild-card winning percentage if you leave the games against the Astros out. All of the trailing teams would have more of a fighting chance, with even the Royals’ situation being a little less desperate. Of course, we can’t nail things down specifically, because we haven’t agreed to an alternative scenario. If it weren’t for the Astros, against whom would those games have been played? And how would those games work out?
It’s worth noting that the Rangers and A’s have both taken care of business. They’ve lost five of a combined 31 games against the Astros, while the rest of the contenders have lost 10 of a combined 39. So while Texas and Oakland have been given an advantage by the Astros’ league switch, they’ve also taken more advantage of the new bad team. The Orioles and the Royals have lost to the Astros twice out of six games. The Rangers have lost twice out of 16. Opportunities like this aren’t common, and Texas and Oakland have seized their chances.
Depending on how things shake out, one might be able to say that the Astros changed the wild-card picture. Of course, things will depend on much more than that — after all, the Astros are just one team out of plenty — but it was anticipated Houston would make things easier for the West. Sure enough, that’s what we see. One should consider, though, the Blue Jays have been much worse than expected. The White Sox, too, so it’s not like the Astros have been the AL’s only bad team. If anything, maybe the playing field has been a little more even than it could’ve been. Probably not, on account of the Angels, but, I tried.
One could try to advance the argument that this is unfair, that things are lopsided in the West’s favor. That’s absolutely true — in 2013. Every year, the unbalanced schedules make things lopsided. All divisions are different. Because team success tends to be cyclical — given a long enough period of time — the divisions should get just about the same number of pushovers. This year, the American League West has the Astros. Last year, the National League Central had the Astros. In 2003, the AL Central had the Tigers. In 2010, the NL Central had the Pirates. Things are never going to be fair until the schedules are balanced. And even then, the balance will be approximate.
But if you’re a fan whose life has been made more difficult by the Astros moving to the AL West, take solace in their organizational intelligence and direction. They’ll be tough soon, and then this will all be forgotten. Things aren’t even, but they’re never even. Things are just baseball, and those weird flaws are part of the fun.
Print This Post