MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Big road test awaits as Astros finish season

If Astros are going to postseason, they'll need to win away from home

Big road test awaits as Astros finish season

The Astros have taken a challenging road on their quest to put an end to a stretch of six consecutive losing seasons, while also looking to claim a postseason berth for the first time in a decade.

After spending the bulk of the season in first place in the American League West, the Astros were swept out of the division lead against the Rangers in Arlington theis week, underscoring the biggest obstacle the Astros faces to advancing to the postseason.

Rangers complete sweep of Astros

Even with a 4-3 loss to the A's on Friday, the opening game of a nine-game homestand, the Astros had a 1 1/2 game lead on the Twins in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot, and remained 2 1/2 games back of the Rangers in the AL West.

And the schedule gives the Astros reason for optimism. Houston began Saturday with eight more games at Minute Maid Park -- including a three-game rematch with the Rangers next weekend -- before embarking on a six-game road trip to Seattle and Arizona that will wrap up the regular season.

Those six road games, however, will be a real challenge for the Astros.

The Astros are 29-46 (.387) on the road, the worst road record in the AL, putting them in position to potentially advance to the post-season with the worst road record in the 21 years since divisional play was created.

Thirty-six of the 166 teams that advanced to the post-season in the last 20 years have had a losing record on the road, including the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, whose 34-47 (.420) record outside of Busch Stadium is the worst for any postseason team of the Wild Card era.

The Cardinals, however, rallied in the postseason and won five of eight road games to claim the 2006 world championship.

The Astros would have to win five of their six remaining road games to match the Cardinals record away from home.

It did not start out this way. The Astros were 10-2 on the road and put together a 15-7 record in April, taking two of three at both Texas and Seattle, and sweeping three-game series at Oakland and San Diego.

However, the Astros are 19-44 on the road since, and have won only two road series -- sweeping two game at Colorado June 17-18, and taking two of three from the Yankees at Yankee Stadium Aug. 24-26.

Title count

Three of the 36 postseason teams with a losing record have won the World Series, the 2006 Cardinals, and the Marlins in 2003.

Seven other teams that had losing road records lost in the World Series -- the 1996 Braves, 2000 Mets, 2005 Astros, 2007 Rockies, 2009 Rays, 2010 Rangers, and 2012 Tigers.

Just three times over the past 20 years -- 1999, 2002 and 04 -- have the playoffs featured a field devoid of any losing teams. Three teams with losing road records advanced to the next round in '95, '96, 2005, '07, '08.

Target practice

Cardinals pitchers hit Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo twice with pitches on Friday, sparking an exchange between the two teams. It was the third time this season Rizzo has been hit by a pitch twice in a game. Rizzo has been hit 29 times overall, the most in the big leagues this year, and the eighth largest total in a season single since 1901, according to Stats Inc.

Maddon on Cardinals' retaliation

Ron Hunt set the single-season modern day record when he was hit 50 times in 1971 with Montreal. Don Baylor ranks second at 35 with the Red Sox in '86, and Craig Biggio was hit 34 times with the Astros in '97.

Steve Evans (1910 Cardinals) and Jason Kendall (1997 and 1998 Pirates) were hit by a pitch 31 times in a season, and Craig Wilson was hit 30 times with the Pirates in 2004.

Stop thief

The Dodgers, who had 21 stolen bases in the first four months of the season, went into Saturday tied for the major league lead with 34 stolen bases since Aug. 1. The Astros, Marlins and Giants also have 34 stolen bases, and the Marlins' Dee Gordon leads major league players with 18 stolen bases since Aug. 1.

Thefts, however, do not necessarily equate runs. The Giants re tied for 18th in the majors with 197 runs scored in that stretch with Marlins 24tth (186 runs), the Astros (181) 25th and Dodgers (178) 26th.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, who lead the majors with 262 runs scored since Aug. 1 are tied for 14th in stolen bases in that stretch with 16. They, however, have been caught only once during that stretch, the top success rate in the majors. The Mets, who rank second with 261 runs scored since Aug. 1, are only 10-for-17 in stolen bases, the second lowest theft total in the stretch, one more stolen base than the Orioles.

Happy anniversary ... 17 years ago Sunday Cal Ripken., Jr., took himself out of the Orioles lineup in a game against the Yankees, ending his record-setting streak of consecutive games played at 2,832. It had begun on May 30, 1982.

Quickly

• The Cubs and Mets are the only clubs in the majors to have swept four, four-game series this season. The Cubs swept the Braves, Mets, Brewers and Giants. Meanwhile, the Mets swept the Marlins, Rockies, Phillies and Braves.

• The A's go into Saturday leading the AL with their pitching staff having thrown 15 shutouts, but also leading the league in having lost 84 games. No team has led a major league team has led a league in those two categories in the same season, according to numbers cruncher Bill Arnold.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.