If this were a perfect world, the Houston Astros would be entering September with a slate full of important dates against contenders like the Padres, Giants, Phillies and Braves.
Instead, they're looking at a schedule full of has-been and never-were teams just like their own selves. Only the Reds stand out among the sea of Cubs, Pirates and Nats, but the recent 'Stros sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals has almost pushed that Sept. 17-19 matchup to almost being meaningless.
So it looks like the Astros will have to settle for our simple praise for not rolling over when facing the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies the past two weeks. The Astros were a perfect 7-0 against the contenders, throwing a decent-sized wrench into their playoff plans.
And it looks like we'll have to look toward other basement-dwellers to give managers the sinking feeling that former Astros skip Larry Dierker recalls from his days as a contender:
I remember that feeling from my days in dugout. I was fearful about losing to the Pirates or Brewers in September. On the one hand, it was an opportunity because we had more talent. But on the other, we felt like we had to win every game against them, because the rest of our games were with better teams.
So which teams out there could play big spoiler roles in the final month? I have two potential picks, one for both the American and National League.
In the NL, there's the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are nine games back in the NL West and 7 1/2 behind the Phillies in the NL wild card. They might be motivated by their longshot odds and have six games apiece against the Giants, Padres and the Rockies.
In the AL, the Royals have six games left against the Twins, three against the White Sox and a four-game set against Tampa Bay to end the season. Zack Greinke(notes) always has the potential to turn a series and the Royals will have plenty of guys trying to earn roles for next season. (If only Mike Moustakas(notes) were getting his callup this September.)
There are, of course, a few other teams that could make an impact in their already-decided seasons. Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington. Which one (or ones) do you think will play that role?