Astros look more dangerous than ever while winning third straight AL West title

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor

The Houston Astros’ run of dominance in the American League West continues.

With their 13-5 victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, the Astros clinched their third straight division championship. That’s tied for the longest streak of division titles in franchise history. From 1997-1999, the Astros won three consecutive NL Central titles. Now they’ve got three — and counting — in the AL West.

In 2017, Houston rode that wave of success all the way to the first and only World Series title in franchise history.

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The Astros are also making a push for the best record in MLB, which would give them home field advantage throughout the entire postseason. At 102-54, they have a one-half game lead on the New York Yankees.

Fittingly, Houston was dominant in the clinching victory. All-Star outfielder George Springer led the way with three home runs and five runs batted in. Ace Justin Verlander tossed five innings of two-run ball. It was just the latest reminder of how dangerous this team will be in October.

The Astros might be the most dangerous team in MLB. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
The Astros might be the most dangerous team in MLB. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

How the Astros won the AL West

Like the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, the Astros quickly separated themselves from the pack. Houston has held sole possession of first place every day since April 28.

Sure, the Oakland Athletics have proven to be a more worthy foe than anyone in L.A.’s path. A wild-card berth is well within the Oakland’s grasp, but Houston’s depth has put them on another level. In fact, this might be a deeper and scarier team than the one that won the World Series in 2017.

A big reason many feel that way is the trade deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke. His addition to a rotation that already included Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole not only solidified Houston as the team to beat in the West, it likely solidified them as the team to beat in the entire AL.

Houston’s already-dangerous lineup added another dimension as well with the addition of free agent Michael Brantley and emergence of rookie Yordan Alvarez. They join a lineup that already includes former MVP Jose Altuve and potential future MVPs George Springer and Alex Bregman.

Alvarez has been especially awesome. The 22-year-old slugger has mashed 27 home runs and driven in 77 runs in just 82 games. He’s top 10 in MLB in average exit velocity, and he’s using the entire field to do his damage. His at-bats are already must-see events.

What the Astros have to do to win the World Series

With Houston, you’d think it would be all about the three aces. While that’s true to an extent, the offenses they’ll face in October have proven capable of hitting any opponents.

In other words, the pressure will be on Houston’s offense to continue putting up big numbers, especially when facing opponents like the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. Both teams can score in bunches with the long ball.

By the same token, it might be on the rotation, and especially Verlander, to limit the home runs given up in October.

Lingering questions

The biggest question mark surrounding the Astros is the health of Carlos Correa.

The All-Star shortstop was limited during the 2018 postseason by a nagging back injury. Unfortunately, that same issue has limited Correa to just 73 games this season and is once again threatening to impact his postseason availability.

The good news is Correa returned to the lineup on Friday and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. When Correa is healthy, he’s among the most dynamic players in the entire league.

As good as the Verlander, Cole and Greinke trio is, the Astros might be in trouble if there’s a need for a fourth starter. Veteran Wade Miley was good through August, but has had a rough time in September. The team acquired Aaron Sanchez to help fill this role, but he’s out for the season due to injury. We wouldn’t call it a weakness, but it could be an area of concern.

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