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Astros face 9-game gauntlet against Mets, Yankees

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After 2½ months, the Astros are in a place so many are accustomed to seeing them, atop the American League West and well above .500. Both facts are blips on the baseball radar. The past five seasons have raised expectations in Houston. American League West championships are anticipated and sometimes not appreciated.

The Astros’ new measure of success starts and ends in the World Series. Whether this club is capable of capturing one remains a mystery. Its trajectory this season shares few similarities with the five that preceded it. The lineup is not scoring runs at a rate anyone expected. The bullpen, once a constant source of consternation, might be the team’s biggest strength.

Playing in the sport’s worst division helps to mask any deficiencies. Step outside it, and they could be exploited. Nine games in June do not define a baseball season, but few can ignore the trek on which the Astros are about to embark.

Starting with Tuesday’s home matchup against the Mets, Houston’s next nine games are against both of New York’s ascending ballclubs. Six will be on the road in rancorous environments. Four games this weekend at Yankee Stadium will present the Astros their most difficult task of the season.

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