Let's have a talk about the Houston Astros

Remember, through early June they -- not the out-of-control-good Dodgers -- were the toast of baseball. With a 42-16 record, which is a pace of 117 wins, we were breaking out all the superlatives. There were stats floating around about teams that had started with such a good record. They had a Cy Young candidate and three MVP candidates. The division lead was 14 games and it was pretty much already over. 

Fast-forward to right now and the latter point still holds. The rest, well, things look quite a bit different. 

The Astros have only gone 31-30 since then. It's not bad at all, but it's not good. Going to a smaller sample, they are only 6-13 since July 25. The only team in that span with a worse record is the Braves. Their grip on the top record in the AL is in peril.

There are reasons, of course. Former MVP candidate Carlos Correa is on the shelf and has been for a while. Outside-shot MVP candidate George Springer missed some time. Ace and 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel missed a chunk of time on the DL and struggled initially when he returned. All-Star starter Lance McCullers is hurt now and had completely fallen apart before the injury. The rest of the rotation hasn't been very good and the bullpen has been worse in the second half. There are more injuries, too, such as those to Will Harris and Brian McCann

That paints a bit of a bleak picture and things aren't going well -- other than AL MVP front-runner Jose Altuve -- but there's plenty of good news. 

First off, the Astros still have a double-digit lead in the AL West. The chances of them not being able to hold off teams like the Angels, Mariners and Rangers with an 11 1/2 game lead and only 43 games to play are incredibly slim. Then, by the time the playoffs come around, they should have Correa back and it's possible everyone starts playing as well as they did early in the year. Then they could win the World Series.

It's not without precedent.  The 1984 Tigers started 35-5 and then were 52-18. They'd "only" go 52-40 the rest of the way and won the World Series with relative ease (going 7-1 in the playoffs). More extreme: The 1990 Reds. They started 33-12 and were only 58-59 for the remainder of the schedule. They lost four of their last six heading into the playoffs, but then got hot again and won the World Series, sweeping the mighty, 103-win A's in the Fall Classic. 

This is to say that by no means am I saying anything outlandish like the Astros won't win the division or are cooked moving forward. They have a legitimate shot at both the AL pennant and the World Series. 

But ...

I've gotta rank the teams as they stand right now. The Astros have been holding onto that number two spot behind a juggernaut based upon the credit they built up early in the season. After only winning 31 of their last 60 games and playing so poorly for the past two-plus weeks, they've gotta tumble a bit. They just don't look like the best non-Dodgers team in baseball right now. 

Biggest Movers
6 Angels
5 Pirates
1 Dodgers They're on pace to go 115-47. -- 111-51
2 Red Sox Wins in 11 of their last 13 with Rafael Devers, Eduardo Nunez and Andrew Benintendi driving the offense. Let's get weird. 2 78-84
3 Nationals The Bryce Harper injury is obviously such a significant blow (and it's why they are not number two right now), but it's still possible he's back for the playoffs. In the meantime, Howie Kendrick is killing the ball. -- 55-107
4 Guardians Cruising again with a five-game winning streak and the division lead hasn't been bigger all season. 2 92-70
5 Astros Remember, you can always look at the standings page if that's what you're most interested in. 3 106-56
6 Diamondbacks They've now dropped seven of their last 10 games, though most of those were to the Dodgers, Cubs and Astros. 1 74-88
7 Rockies Welcome back, Chad Bettis. I'm giving you a standing ovation as I type this. -- 68-94
8 Yankees What a crushing blow in that Sunday night loss to the Red Sox. The Yankees only have seven more chances at them this season. 1 99-63
9 Cubs The loss of Willson Contreras in the midst of a top-shelf hot streak was pretty devastating, but the Cubs don't play a team with a winning record now until Sept. 8. 1 74-88
10 Cardinals That eight-game winning streak has them as the Cubs biggest threat in the Central now. The rivals play seven times in the final 17 games of the season. 1 93-69
11 Angels The six-game winning streak is over, but it legitimately thrust the Angels right into the thick of the wild card mix and that's fun. 6 73-89
12 Twins In looking at the personnel, it really doesn't seem like they belong in the race, but here they are, now having won seven of their last nine. Despite trading their best reliever, the bullpen has been much improved in the second half, too, which is partially a testament to manager Paul Molitor. 6 78-84
13 Brewers That six-game losing streak dropped them all the way back to .500 for the first time since all the way back on May 7, but they've rebounded with three straight wins. 3 86-76
14 Rangers I don't blame them for selling, but it would be pretty funny if they made the playoffs by using Cole Hamels in a tiebreaker game and then had to run out someone with an ERA of over 5.00 (this scenario, of course, assumes Andrew Cashner would be unavailable). Man, the screaming about them trading Yu Darvish would sure be loud. 6 68-94
15 Rays UPDATE: SInce I ruined their season by not ranking them fourth, as I admittedly should have, they have gone 9-17. 3 86-76
16 Mariners Now James Paxton is hurt. It's amazing the Mariners are anywhere close to being in contention with the rotation injuries they've dealt with this season. They lead the majors with 15 different pitchers having started a game this season. 3 90-72
17 Royals The Royals have lost 11 of their last 16, Salvador Perez is hurt and, starting Friday, their next nine games are against the Indians (six) and Rockies (three). Tough spot, to say the least, but they are right in the thick of things in the wild-card race. 3 65-97
18 Orioles The offense is humming like many thought it would all year, hitting more than 100 OPS points higher since the All-Star break. (OK, so I typed that before the Tuesday night game started, so it was apparently a jinx. My bad, O's fans). 3 83-79
19 Blue Jays I know they have to jump over nearly the entire American League, but the Jays amazingly aren't even that far out of the playoffs right now. Just 3 1/2 out of the second AL wild card. -- 92-70
20 Marlins Last week I mentioned that Giancarlo Stanton is finally gonna hit 50+ homers. He's now seen my bet and raised me to 60. 1 69-93
21 Pirates Big stretch coming up for the Pirates. After another game against the Brewers, they've got four at home against the Cardinals, four more against the Dodgers, three at Cincinnati (I guess that's the "break," though the Reds can hit and then against the Cubs in Chicago for three. 5 62-100
22 Mets Dom Smith and Amed Rosario are fun things to watch the rest of the way in Queens. 1 101-61
23 Athletics Rookie starter Paul Blackburn -- who the A's got from the Mariners for Danny Valencia in the offseason -- is off to a nice start to his career (3-1, 3.02 ERA in eight starts). He's only struck out 20 in 50 2/3 innings, but he's getting grounders 54.8 percent of the time relying on that heavy sinker to induce weak contact. 2 60-102
24 Reds Here's a positive: Adam Duvall leads the majors with 11 outfield assists. 4 62-100
25 Padres Would you believe that since the start of July, the Padres have a winning record? 1 89-73
26 Tigers Justin Verlander had a 1.91 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 47 innings in his last seven starts before the Rangers knocked him around on Tuesday. Still, I believe he will be very valuable down the stretch and in the playoffs if someone trades for him. Still plenty of time, too. 4 66-96
27 Braves Coming out of the All-Star break, the Braves swept the Diamondbacks, evening their record at 45-45. Since then, the wheels have fallen off, as they are 7-20. 3 101-61
28 Giants The worst ERA among qualified starting pitchers in the majors this year belongs to Matt Moore. 1 81-81
29 White Sox I'm not sure Tim Anderson is suited to be a leadoff hitter at this point in his career. He's walked 11 times all season, compared to 118 strikeouts. 1 81-81
30 Phillies They're back on pace to lose 100+ games (102 at present), which hasn't happened for this franchise in the expansion era (last time was 1961). 1 87-75