For playoff-hopeful Astros, it's winning time

For playoff-hopeful Astros, it's winning time

HOUSTON -- With the Astros' final series against the Rangers -- a team that's haunted them to the tune of 15 losses in 19 games -- in the books, the club is looking down the stretch with its playoff hopes teetering on the brink.

Heading into Thursday's off-day, the Astros were 3 1/2 games out of the second American League Wild Card spot. With 16 games left on the regular-season slate, their problem isn't so much the number of games back as it is the number of teams ahead of them in the standings.

Houston (76-70) currently trails Baltimore (80-65), Toronto (79-66), Detroit (78-67), Seattle (78-68) and New York (77-68) in the Wild Card race. Of that group, the Astros can quickly make up ground on the Mariners, against whom they still have six games left, beginning with a huge weekend series starting Friday at Safeco Field.

As for the rest of the field, the Astros will just have to win as much as possible and hope it's enough in the end.

"Every game matters right now," infielder Marwin Gonzalez said. "We're going to try to win as much as we can, and that's it."

Though manager A.J. Hinch declined to state a specific win total he'd like to reach, the Astros likely need to finish 12-4 or 13-3 to make up the difference. It's plausible that 89 wins could get Houston in the playoffs, but even that's no certainty at this point.

That said, the tall task of reaching the postseason is not impossible, especially considering the teams Astros have left. Between the three clubs remaining on the schedule -- the Mariners, the A's and the Angels -- Houston owns a combined 29-12 record against them, having outscored the trio by a combined 65 runs this season.

Still, the Astros aren't going to focus on the opponents as much as they're going to focus on what they can control: themselves.

"As players, we're not looking at the schedule or the standings," outfielder Jake Marisnick said. "We're just trying to take it day by day, one game at a time and focus on winning."

"You've got to grind every day," Gonzalez said. "If you go out there with [the mentality that you're better], you're going to lose before the game. We go out there and give 100 percent. That's what we can do."

It doesn't help that Houston is also trying to win a ton of games in a short amount of time with a bevy of injuries to key contributors, including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers.

But if the Astros are going to play postseason games in October, they're going to have to overcome the records, the injuries and the teams in front of them about as well as they overcame their 7-17 start to the season.

"I know my team," Hinch said. "I think they're a resilient group. They're battling a lot of things, and they're holding their own."

Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.