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Houston Astros still pushing to clinch; Cleveland Indians on cruise control: ALDS countdown

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Houston Astros are a good baseball team. They won the World Series last year following consecutive seven-game showdowns against the Yankees and the Dodgers and this season they are on pace to equal their 101-win season from last year.

But there’s one thing they haven’t done yet — clinch a spot in the postseason. They could clinch a wild-card spot as soon as Friday — their magic number over Tampa Bay is 2 — but clinching the AL West will take longer because of the persistent Oakland A’s. The Astros’ magic number to eliminate the A’s is seven with 10 games to play.  

Houston was off Thursday, while the A’s beat the Angels.

The Indians will almost assuredly play Houston in the AL Division Series. Game 1 is scheduled for Oct. 5 and unless they fail to win the West, the Astros will have home-field advantage in the best-of-five series. The Indians clinched the AL Central on Saturday with a 15-0 win over Detroit.

It’s hard to win in the big leagues, but in all honesty the Indians have been in cruise control for much of the season on the way to their third straight division title. It’s not their fault that the Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Royals decided to rebuild at the same time. Give ownership credit for giving Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff the means to collect enough talent to take advantage of the situation, but to say the Indians have played scintillating baseball through the first 5½ months of the season is a stretch. 

But with just under two weeks left in the regular season, an interesting experiment has presented itself for your viewing pleasure.

What is the best way to enter the postseason?

Houston manager A.J. Hinch will have to keep fielding representative lineups until the West is clinched. At this point of the season, a wild-card spot would be nice, but the Astros have bigger plans and they start with a division title.  

Tribe manager Terry Francona, meanwhile, can rest his regulars and conduct Spring Training 11 as he works Trevor Bauer back into the rotation and Andrew Miller into the bullpen. He’ll be able to give Jason Kipnis pressure-free reps in center. The same goes for his re-aligned infield of Josh Donaldson at third and Jose Ramirez at second.

In his spare time, he can take a close look at who will be on his postseason roster. How will Shane Bieber do in the bullpen? How do Yandy Diaz, Greg Allen and Rajai Davis fit?

The results won’t qualify as a scientific study. It’s almost impossible to predict how a team will react to a month of postseason baseball. Last year the Indians clinched on Sept.16 on the way to winning 102 games. The wild-card Yankees knocked them out in five games in the first round. The Astros clinched on Sept. 17 and went on to win the franchise’s first World Series.

No matter it should be intriguing to watch.

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