FALCON POINTS

5 key questions in Houston sports once the teams return

Photo by Getty Images.

The sports world is slowly creeping back, with the UFC, German soccer and NASCAR staging events this past week. They were unquestionably all successes, which means the rest of the leagues will soon follow suit. (One other encouraging thing; horse racing has been there all along, with limited Rona-related issues. So sports without fans can be pulled off). With that in mind, here are five things to look forward to the most as the sports world returns in Houston (this is assuming, of course, that all the leagues and colleges do come back):

5) Can the Dynamo become relevant again?

Dynamo fans get angry when their team is left off lists like this, but the reality is this team has been a disaster, with only one playoff appearance in the last six seasons in a league that all but begs you to make the playoffs. They brought in a promising new coach in Tab Ramos, and hoped to bring a new attitude and new style. There were only two games to go on before the Rona hit, including a home draw and a bad road loss. For a team that has been a mess on the road for years, it was not a great start. Now, like everyone else, they have to hit the reset button. But they have a lot farther to go than most teams. Will they be able to pull it together after the break? Can they be anything more than a DNQ in the playoff race again? Those are the pressing questions.

4) Can the UH resurgence continue?

In football, Dana Holgorsen's first season was simply a disaster. But prior coach Major Applewhite left him little to work with. Holgorsen's track record though, should give hope. Yes, QB D'Eriq King is gone, but Holgorsen should have more talent around QB Clayton Tune in year two and the Cougars should be able to make a jump. If not, things could get a little testy on Cullen. Meanwhile, Kelvin Sampson's basketball squad would have made the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled, but the team was very young and should be even better in 2020, even losing a couple players to the pros. The question is not whether they will be a good team; it's how good can they be? The bar is set pretty high, and it will be fun to see if they can reach it.

3) Do the Rockets have another gear?

Before the break, the Rockets were alternating between stretches where they looked like a title contender and other points where they looked like first-round fodder. The question was always going to be how this team would do in the playoffs. Since the postseason is likely to begin with their return, we will get the answer quickly. Will they thrive in a shortened postseason? Or are the bad Rockets headed for an early exit? The good news is we get to find out soon.

2) Is Bill O'Brien really smart?

His off-season moves have been well chronicled, and universally ripped locally and nationally. But at least he has his team. While most will remain skeptical, O'Brien is banking on being smarter than everyone else. He still has Deshaun Watson, who can overcome a lot of his coach's shortcomings. But will it be enough?

1) Will the Astros still have a shot in what looks like the last year of their window?

This was going to be a big year for the Astros, returning with most of last year's World Series loser intact. The off-season controversy surrounding the 2017 cheaters took on a life of its own. But perhaps the team to benefit most from this break is the Astros. The delay should be enough to get Justin Verlander back and healthy. More time and a shortened schedule should benefit Lance McCullers. And if there are no fans? The trash can crew will have no impact. Perhaps by the time fans return, the controversy will have faded and will not be an issue. How the Astros respond will be critical. Of all the teams on the list, however, they could benefit from this break the most. Will they?

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The Astros have JV this year, and Yankee Stadium will be packed. Composite image by Jack Brame.

How’s that New York, New York song go, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere? The AL West leading Houstonians are about to find out just where they stand among baseball’s elite. The Astros start a 4-game series tonight against the AL East first-place Yankees at Yankee Stadium, then a 2-game set against the NL East first-place Mets at Citi Field, then back home for a single game against the Yankees.

New York, New York indeed. And you can throw another New York in there for an encore.

When the dust clears, the Astros could be the best team in baseball or merely a good, solid team … just not the Yankees in the American League. Or the Mets in the National League.

The Yankees have the top record in the AL East, 51-18, a dozen games ahead the second-place Blue Jays. The Mets, even after dropping two to the Astros this week at Minute Maid Park, stand at 45-26, 4.5 games up on the Braves.

The Yankees and Mets have the two best records in the Major Leagues, with the Astros knocking on the door at 43-25.

It’s not yet July, but the next seven games could be the most important, interesting stretch of 2022 for the Astros, maybe for all of baseball.

Remember last year when the Astros visited Yankee Stadium, their first trip to The Bronx after the sign-stealing scandal broke? Yankee fans were lurking for the Astros like the Van Buren Boys waiting to mug George Costanza.

It was a different year last year for sure. The Yankees were barely over .500, headed for a third-place finish in the AL East. Didn’t matter, cold-blooded New Yorkers were out for vengeance. They remembered 2017 when they believe in their souls that the Astros were undeserving, big fat cheating champions and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve stole the AL MVP election from Aaron Judge. There seems to be a lot of that going around. Also with no evidence. Turns out that Altuve wasn’t one of the garbage can gang.

It also was baseball’s Covid season. The Yankees allowed only 10,500 fans to attend those games against the Astros last year. And they had security staff patrolling the ballpark ordering fans to wear their face masks. The only time fans lowered their masks was to eat or drink.

Or yell “F-Altuve” or “F-Astros” at the top of their New York lungs. They’re loud to start, and 10,500 fans sounded like a packed stadium. It could be a decibel-breaker tonight at Yankee Stadium.

It was brutal last season. Fans brought signs laced with profanity. They got personal with Astros players. Fans were dressed in homemade garbage can costumes. Party City doesn’t sell those. I watched small children yell the F-word and turn to their parents for a high five.

What a treat for Astros fans, seven games over eight days, all against dreaded powerhouses from New York. A dying sport? Half empty stadiums in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Miami? A vacant house in Oakland? Nobody’s ghosting baseball in Houston.

The Astros are loaded for bear this week. Their pitching is set up perfectly. Framber Valdez starts the opener tonight at Yankee Stadium, followed by Justin Verlander, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. Luis Garcia and Valdez are slated for the Mets at Citi Field. The bullpen is firing on all cylinders.

Then, one week from today, it’s Verlander vs. Gerrit Cole at Minute Maid Park. Game of the Year. Where the pitching rubber meets the road. TK, Blummer and Julia, get ready for World Series level ratings.

It’s go time. The only thing that could make that game any bigger and better – if it were a Tuesday Dollar Dog Night.

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