Thoughts on the Astros coming to AL West
The anticipated arrival of Houston to the American League West became official Thursday, with MLB saying the Astros could join the Mariners division as soon as 2013.
Change is always interesting … and usually met with considerable resistance on some fronts. Many long-time Astros fans aren’t happy about being forced to switch leagues, which is understandable as the same would be true in any city with much of a tradition and history in one league.
For the overall benefit of baseball, I think it’s a good thing. Two 15-team leagues make sense, though there will now be interleague games throughout the season instead of in one midseason lump.
The four-team AL West and six-team NL Central was always a little odd, so now scheduling will be more uniform and fair. And the anticipated addition of a second wild-card playoff berth in each league should be good as well.
But what about the affect on the Mariners? Houston is coming off a 56-106 season, the worst team in MLB last year, so initially it could provide some easier games. But things can change there and no one knows how the new ownership group will spend. Bottom line, the Mariners now will compete in a five-team race and face one additional hurdle, though if the Astros continue to be poor, it conceivably adds 18 easier games to the slate.
Travel to me is the critical element. The Mariners already face the most difficult road of any MLB team simply because of location. Having another division team in Texas sounds like more miles, but it could actually help if the schedule-makers combine trips to Arlington and Houston. Then suddenly you’ve got just a short hop on some legs of those trips, which is a rarity in the AL West.
So we shall see. I can tell you this. One Mariners player who is excited about this is Justin Smoak, for good reason. Smoak went 7-for-14 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs in a three-game Interleague series at Minute Maid Park in 2010 while with the Rangers.
Ichiro is another who apparently loves Houston, having hit .536 (15-for-28) in six games there.
“I like the idea of playing in Houston a little more often,” Smoak told me this morning. “The ball flies everywhere there, that’s all I remember. It’s the total opposite of Safeco Field.”
In case you’re wondering, the Mariners are 3-6 all-time against the Astros, including a 2-4 mark in Houston.
You can read my full story for Mariners.com on Smoak’s thoughts as well as the history of how some of the other Mariners have done in Minute Maid Park by clicking here.