A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME

16 reasons why it's better to be rooting for the Astros

The Twins have lost 16 consecutive playoff games. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Astros 2020 redemption tour – better known as the Major League post-season - starts today with a quicky best-of-three series against the Minnesota Twins, kings of the American League Central division.

All games will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis. While the Twins had baseball's best home record, 24-7, and the Astros were roadkill with a disastrous 9-23 mark away from Minute Maid Park …

I'd still rather be us than them, and there are sweet 16 reasons why.

It's a hard-to-believe stat, but the Twins have lost 16 consecutive playoff games, the Major League record for post-season futility. You can look it up, the Twins were bamboozled 13 times by the Yankees and three times by the A's since 2003.

A more important date, however, is 1991, the last time the Twins sniffed the World Series. Most of the Twins' regulars, including Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario. Byron Buxton, Max Kepler weren't even born yet when the Twins last played in the Fall Classic. You know Newton's First Law, right? An object in motion stays in motion. With even a little effort, the Twins will extend their playoff losing streak to 18.

In the Astros dugout, all you have is experience under pressure. The Astros have seen the World Series from both sides – winning in 2017 and losing in 2019, sandwiched around another playoff appearance in 2018. The Astros succeed under the gun.

OK, this season the Astros are a rare playoff team with a losing record, 29-31, successfully managing to lose less than the Angels and Mariners. But thanks to an expanded playoff scheme concocted by commissioner Rob Manfred, 29-31 was good enough for second place in the American League West and automatic entry to the post-season. Hey, the Astros didn't make the rules, don't blame them.

The Twins are a heavy favorite to smack the Astros this week thanks to their regular-season record. That was then, this is now. It's a whole new ballgame, everybody's starting 0-0.

Look at today's starting pitchers (1 p.m. on ABC 13). The Twins are throwing Kenta Maeda, a pretty good pitcher for sure. We'll have Zack Greinke, a future Hall of Famer, with a lifetime 208-126 record. He's the winningest active pitcher and would have 209 wins if a certain bonehead manager left him in Game 7 of last year's World Series. And I say bonehead with love and admiration for dearly departed (from Houston) manager A.J. Hinch.

I like our chances in Game 2, too. The Twins will have Jose Barrios on the mound, the Astros are starting TBD. It's practically impossible to prepare for that guy TBD, so the Astros could wrap up the series in two games.

I'm sticking with the Astros in 2020. More important, the Astros are +150 on the money line today. The over/under is 7.5 runs. In the words of the world's greatest gambler, Cosmo Kramer, that's some sweet action.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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