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Top Five: Astros Series To Watch In 2011

The 2011 schedule was announced earlier this month and we've reviewed it extensively to come up with the five biggest series on the Houston Astros schedule. These could be "big" because of possible playoff implications, place on the schedule or divisional implications. Before we start, though, keep an eye on September 12. Why? That's the day that Roy Oswalt returns to Houston.

5) April 1-3 at Philadelphia - Yes, it's cliche to say the Opening Day series is "big," but this one is for a couple of reasons. First, the season is beginning on a Friday, which is unusual, but is part of the commissioner's plan to avoid playing baseball in November. Second, after an 0-8 start to the 2010 season and a terrible stretch in April and May of this season, the Astros desperately need to get started with a bang in 2011. 

4) June 24-26 at home against Tampa Bay - June could shape up to be the toughest month for the Astros. Using last season's record to predict how good a team will be in the next is dangerous and hopefully not terribly accurate. If so, the Astros are in for a very tough stretch, as only two of the series here are with sub-.500 teams. That's why this Tampa Bay series may be so crucial. The Astros only won one interleague game this season. If they can take a couple in this series, against one of the best teams in the American League, it could help keep the team closer to .500 for the month.

3) September 22-25 at home against Colorado - Not only is this a four-game set, it's the second-to-last series of the season. I don't know if the Astros will be even near the playoff chase next season, but the Rockies have been a second-half team the past few seasons and could very well be in the hunt again. This series should be important for one of the teams and could give the Astros a chance to affect the NL West and Wildcard races.

2) July 29-31 at Milwaukee - The last series before the July trading deadline will be big for Houston, simply because quite a bit could hinge on how they play. It's not like the Astros will have overpriced veterans in the final years of their deals to trade again, but they could make a move or two depending on their record. The series itself may be not bigger than any other division rival matchup, but there could be players coming and going at some point. during these three games.

1) September 25-28 at home against St. Louis - Once upon a time, ending the season with St. Louis at home would have been a guaranteed marquee matchup. Since the Astros don't figure to be contenders in 2011, it probably won't mean much next season, but it will have emotional value. Even if the Astros head into the winter of 2011 with another losing record, taking these final three games from the Cardinals would send every Astros fan home happy and content. It may not make up for all the losing that may happen, but it'd be pretty sweet.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.