It's been chic, at times even appropriate, to call the Houston Astros cheaters in recent years. Never before had they earned the title of chokers.
But this September is starting to look a lot different from the past decade.
The Astros' grip on a sixth consecutive full-season American League West title greatly weakened in the past 10 days and now, they are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for just the second time in the past nine years.
It's nothing to be ashamed of, if only the reason for their predicament wasn't so embarrassing: The 102-loss Kansas City Royals.
Houston dropped five of six games to K.C. over the past two weekends, a span that saw the Astros' one-game West lead turn into a 2 1/2-game advantage for the Texas Rangers. The Astros also slid two spots in USA TODAY Sports' power rankings.
Thankfully for the Astros, the Rangers handled another bit of their dirty work, sweeping the Seattle Mariners to keep Houston's tenuous hold on a playoff spot. Ostensibly, the Astros could have buried the Mariners by taking care of business against abysmal Kansas City; instead, they were swept.
Now, however, it's all on Houston, which heads to Seattle for a crucial three-game series beginning Monday.
A look at this week's rankings:
1. Atlanta Braves (–)
Finger sprain knocks Charlie Morton out of rotation until at least NLCS.
2. Baltimore Orioles (-)
John Means' no-hit bid had huge immediate and playoff ramifications.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (-)
Clayton Kershaw, Saturday Starter is working out OK so far.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (-)
That's Lowe as in ow: Second baseman latest All-Star out for the season.
5. Milwaukee Brewers (+1)
When you win at least 86 games six consecutive years, you always have a chance.
6. Texas Rangers (+3)
Just like they drew it up: Corey Seager, Marcus Semien combine for 60 home runs.
7. Toronto Blue Jays (-)
Kevin Gausman lined up to start twice this week - if they need him.
8. Philadelphia Phillies (-)
Fan appreciation, indeed: They're 47-31 at Citizens Bank Park.
9. Houston Astros (-4)
Turns out they were on to something the years they salted the division away by Labor Day.
10. Seattle Mariners (-)
Drawn like a magnet to 88-ish wins.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks (+1)
Zac Gallen crosses the 200-inning plateau while throwing his eighth scoreless start of the year.
12. Minnesota Twins (+2)
Chris Paddack completes 16-month journey back from Tommy John surgery.
13. Chicago Cubs (-)
Would love nothing more than to stick around Milwaukee after finishing the season there Sunday.
14. Miami Marlins (-3)
32-13 in one-run games, best percentage (.734) in franchise history.
15. Cincinnati Reds (-)
A bullpen with a 1.36 WHIP is proving their undoing.
16. New York Yankees (-)
Official: Will miss playoffs for first time since 2016.
17. San Francisco Giants (-)
They might just further annoy their fans if they stick around just enough to make final weekend relevant.
18. San Diego Padres (+1)
You couldn't go 0-12 in extra-inning games if you tried. Right?
19. Boston Red Sox (-1)
Just about clinched third last-place finish in four years.
20. Cleveland Guardians (-)
Triston McKenzie battles back from elbow sprain to make just his third start this year.
21. Detroit Tigers (-)
Riley Greene undergoes Tommy John surgery on non-throwing elbow.
22. New York Mets (-)
Jose Quintana not a bad rotation holdover to lay 2024 foundation.
23. Los Angeles Angels (-)
Anthony Rendon officially done for the year, with two homers in 148 at-bats.
24. Pittsburgh Pirates (-)
Jack Suwinski's 26 home runs should be enough to lead the team.
25. St. Louis Cardinals (-)
Burgeoning country rock star snags 200th career win.
26. Washington Nationals (-)
Club MVP Lane Thomas hits the 26-homer, 20-steal plateau.
27. Chicago White Sox (+1)
Mike Clevinger hasn't walked a batter since Aug. 27, longest stretch since LaMarr Hoyt in 1983.
28. Colorado Rockies (-1)
A glorious week up there at No. 27, but now it's back to reality.
29. Kansas City Royals (–)
Biggest wins in Houston since stunning comeback in 2015 ALDS.
30. Oakland Athletics (–)
The record: 48-108. The run differential: -326. Number of future Hall of Famers they inappropriately gifted an $80 bottle of wine: One.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB power rankings: Houston Astros in September collapse