Considering the Astros began play Wednesday with a 10-game lead in the American League West over the Rangers, it’s probably not fair to say any stretch of games is crucial. The Astros are storming toward their fifth AL West title in the last six years with no other team in the division over .500.
Because the division is weaker than had been expected coming into the season, the Astros’ schedule so far hasn’t been as difficult as others, but that’s changing this week. Beginning Tuesday, the Astros began a nine-game stretch against the Mets and the Yankees — the best teams in baseball based on their records. The Yankees (50-18) are the class of AL, while the Mets (45-25) have the best record in the NL. At 42-25, the Astros have the third-best record in baseball behind both New York clubs.
“We’re going to have to have our best games, but they’ve also got to play us,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Houston started its tough stretch on the right foot with an 8-2 win over the Mets on Tuesday. After playing the Mets again on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, the Astros will open a weeklong stay in the Big Apple on Thursday with four games against the Yankees in the Bronx before shifting to Queens next Tuesday and Wednesday to face the Mets. The Yankees then play a single makeup game on June 30 in Houston.
“I think it’s always fun to compete against the best,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I think everybody looks forward to playing against the best and competing against the best. Of course, everyone is going to be really excited.”
These games won’t make or break Houston’s season, but they should provide a clearer picture of where they stand and perhaps what they need to do at the Trade Deadline to beat the Yankees in October. Entering Tuesday, the Astros had played the fewest games in Major League Baseball against teams with currently a winning record, going 8-7 against the Blue Jays (2-4), Red Sox (1-2), Twins (3-0) and Guardians (2-1).
The Yankees lost in Toronto on Sunday, ending a nine-game winning streak, before splitting the first two games of a three-game road set against the Rays. They’ve gone 44-12 since April 22, lead the Major Leagues in OPS (.768) and ERA (2.88) and are on pace to break the MLB record for single-season wins (116).
“We want to show them how good we are,” Baker said. “They are amongst both league’s elite, in the same city. Shoot, they haven’t been that in a while, since both of them were good at the same time. … They’re good teams. They do pose a problem for us in as much as they’ve got a lot of left-handed hitters and without a lefty or two in [in our] bullpen. The Mets have three or four switch-hitters and three or four left-hand hitters. The Yankees always carry left-handers because of that short porch at Yankee Stadium. We have to play well. We have to score and keep scoring.”