A couple of days ago, I presented the record the Astros would have if they played .500 ball for the rest of the season. I think it is an interesting exercise, because it acknowledges that the Astros probably won't win 116 games (thanks, Constable) by sustaining their current pace, but it accounts for the wins that the Astros have already banked to this point in the season. These are wins that will not be taken away from them because
I also talked a couple of days ago about how few games the AL West - holders of the Hardest Division in Baseball title - have played against teams outside their division. No other AL West team currently has a .500 record - the Angels are the next best at 11-14. All AL West teams have played either 26 (Oakland), 25 (Houston, LA and Seattle) or 24 (Texas) games, so the AL West in total has played 125 games.
With the early season schedule relying heavily on intra-division games, it is important to note that only 23 games have been played by AL West teams against teams outside the division. The combined record in those games are 7-16. The Angels haven't won a game against an opponent outside the AL West in six attempts, and the Mariners have also been the victims of an inter-league sweep already this year. Only the Astros have a winning out-of-division record (4-2), mostly by virtue of a sweep of the Padres.
So some of the unimpressive records of the AL West teams could be due to the intradivision dominance at the hands of the Astros. But AL West teams are also under performing - at least to this point - against teams outside the division. What this adds up to is a great situation for the Astros, with an early 7 game lead, partly built by a strong record within the division (14-5 record), and partly built by the weaknesses of the other AL West teams.
And lets face it. All the AL West teams have significant weaknesses. The Astros have very limited starting pitching depth. Ditto the Angels, plus a hole at second base, and a dodgy 'pen. Oakland perhaps has the best rotation, but their 'pen isn't fabulous, and their lineup lacks a wow factor at the moment. Seattle is interesting, but globally under performing, and Texas have been the victims of a crippling plague of injuries over the last 18 months, and are having to trial a pack of replacement-level players. I would think that Seattle is the team most likely to overtake the Astros if the Astros don't win the division, since they still look like the best all-round unit on paper, and have the fewest weaknesses.
So I am thinking of the Astros' hot play not as the expected rate of winning for the rest of the season, but as banking wins in close games. It is fabulous that this has happened with the core of the lineup not contributing. If they maintain a perfectly realistic record from here (.500), they will be entering the last game of the season with 86 wins on the board. That may be enough to take the division because (i) of their early-season dominance inside the division and (ii) the other teams all have significant weaknesses. But the records of the AL West teams may stabilise quickly, especially as a couple of the stronger teams start to perform better in out-of-division games. The AL West may start to resemble the solid division it looked like last year once the early season intradivision part of the schedule ends.
Writing about stuff like this sure beats writing recaps in a 90+ loss season, huh?