Amid tight WC race, Astros seek turnaround

Hinch says 'brutal schedule' doesn't help, but club knew it was coming

August 17th, 2016

HOUSTON -- In the thick of an American League Wild Card race at least six teams deep and riding a four-game losing streak, the Astros are seeking a return to winning in hopes of an August playoff push.

Easier said than done when Houston also happens to be in the middle of one of its most ruthless sections of the schedule, a two-game series with the Cardinals sandwiched in between 15 road games, most against teams also in the playoff hunt.

"It's a brutal schedule, which obviously I'll admit is less than ideal for our group," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before Wednesday's 8-2 loss to the Cards, "but we knew it was coming. We could see it on the schedule at the beginning of the season, and when you get to August, sometimes you have to wear it, and we certainly have to wear it."

Not an ideal span for any team, but certainly not for the Astros, who entered Wednesday 5 1/2 games back of an AL Wild Card spot and trailed the Orioles, Red Sox, Mariners and Tigers while tied with the Yankees in the AL Wild Card standings.

"With the way the American League is shaping up, the next six weeks are going to be incredible," Hinch said. "It makes for a jumbled mess to where you realize all you need to focus on is winning your next game and win as many games as you can. It's probably going to take in the upper 80s [in wins] to get into the playoffs, so until you get close to that number, it's pretty much a moot point."

Hinch said he doesn't think the Astros need a massive overhaul to get back in the postseason. His club just needs to hit and play better in close games and clutch situations.

The Astros were 19-21 in one-run games entering Wednesday, which was the lowest winning percentage (.475) of any team in their division. The AL West-leading Rangers were 27-8 (.771) in such situations.

"It starts with getting a good pitch to hit," Hinch said. "I think having a mentality is really important ... not trying to carry the entire team on your shoulders and making things happen outside of your strike zone."

Hinch said he welcomes the challenge that the exhilaration of an August Wild Card race presents.

"Ever since the Wild Card came in, it makes it very interesting for a lot of teams in the league and keeps teams in the race as long as possible," Hinch said. "It's one of the most exciting and fascinating races in our sport."