4. Houston Astros (86–57, plus-144, LT: 2)
It’s not as extreme a case as it is with the Dodgers, who’ve gone from challenging for the best record in MLB history to losing 10 in a row and 15 of 16. Still, the Astros were swept by the lowly A’s this weekend, are now just 26-–8 in the second half, and they’ve relinquished the top seed in the American League to a historically hot Cleveland squad.
Once the winningest team in baseball, Houston’s limping to the finish line of the season, fortified by the acquisition of Justin Verlander but still struggling to win consistently. With momentum pointed in the wrong direction and Cleveland surging ahead in the standings, should Astros fans worry that their team peaked too early?
In a word, no. Studies of teams that came into the playoffs hot, or cold show ... no definitive pattern one way or another. Teams like the 2016 Cubs have rolled into the postseason riding a wave, then charged through the playoffs and won it all. But so too have teams like the 2006 Cardinals, who went 25–32 to end the season, eked into the playoffs with an underwhelming 83–78 record, then went on to win the World Series themselves.
In acquiring Verlander, the Astros addressed their biggest weakness. Despite a recent pullback, the offense remains the most productive in baseball. The bullpen and bench are both deep, offering potential matchup advantages come October. Once the playoffs start, nothing that happened before makes a difference.