HOUSTON 2, COLUMBUS 0

5 kicks from Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC

Oscar Boniek Garcia (center) was honored for surpassing 200 appearances for the Houston Dynamo. Photo by Diego Dlouhy/SportsMap Houston.

The Houston Dynamo got back to winning with a 2-0 result over Columbus Crew SC on Saturday. Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez were the goalscorers that helped the team rebound from their 2-1 away loss the previous week while the defense earned their first shutout of the year.

Here are five observations from the win:

HIGHLIGHTS: Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC | April 27, 2019www.youtube.com

1) Home sweet home

With the win, the Dynamo extended their undefeated home record this season to a 4-0-1 mark. At 5-1-1 overall, five wins in the first seven matches is the fastest run to that mark in club history so the team has plenty to be happy and feel confident about.

In the bigger picture, it is important that the team is defending their home turf again. Their 12-1-4 home record in 2017 was key to their first playoff season in four years and it's no coincidence that they missed the playoffs last season after losing six matches at home - on top of their bad form on the road.

With four of the next six matches to be contested inside the friendly confines of BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo would have played more than half of their home schedule before the Gold Cup break in mid-June. That means that a heavy road schedule awaits the team on the other side including six out of eight over the course of a month between June 22 and July 20. The latter end of the schedule isn't any more forgiving so it's a good insurance policy to see the Dynamo rack up points here early.

2) First shutout of the season

Manager Wilmer Cabrera had expressed his desire to see his defense come away with a clean sheet earlier in the season. On Saturday, they delivered. Joe Willis came away with four saves and the defensive line of DeLaGarza, Struna, Figueroa and Lundqvist naturally look more confortable starting together in their fifth competitive match.

In this case, the shutout serves more for confidence and maybe goal differential later in the season as this Columbus team was no match for the Dynamo, even if they had pulled a goal back. The bigger test for the Houston defense will come when they face the league's elite attacking players and that's where the defense will earn their paychecks this year.

3) Manotas breaks scoring drought

The Dynamo's top goalscorer in 2018 came in to this match riding a four-match scoring drought. The Colombian wasn't an absentee in those games, rendering four assists in that stretch.

Ultimately, forwards will get judged for scoring goals and making impactful game-changing plays. In the previous game against LA Galaxy, the Dynamo's most challenging opponent this season, Manotas could not generate that type of moment and, in the match before that against San Jose, he missed a penalty. It's good to see him back on the scoresheet but the best of the young Colombian is yet to be seen, especially if he wants to be called up to the Colombian national team.

4) Martinez becoming elite?

EVERY ANGLE: Martinez's strike vs. Crew SCwww.youtube.com

Tomas Martinez put up a team-high 13 assists in 2018 but, just by the eye-test, he looks more engaged this season. Reaching double digit assists isn't exactly a given but it is the standard for the team's no. 10. More importantly, he looks more confortable with better support behind him in defense.

Martinez still has another level to reach and it's still to early to say how much improvement he will make this season. If he is able to replicate the type of success we have seen from some of the league's best midfielders like Portland Timbers' Diego Valeri or even D.C. United's Luciano Acosta, the Dynamo would gain another dimension in attack that would really put them in business. Easier said than done, however, but there's definitely some positive signs.

5) Boniek celebrated for 200 appearances

Longtime Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia was celebrated right before kickoff for passing the mark of 200 games played with the club across all competitions (reached two weeks ago against San Jose). The 34-year-old has featured in every MLS match for the team this season and all but one across all competitions.

Unsure of his status with the club before the beginning of last season, Boniek has continued to provide the team with solid performances in midfield. He has undoubtedly stayed in the good graces of the manager, which is no surprise, given how many matches he's featured in over Cabrera's three season tenure - further showcasing the trust held in the Honduran legend.

How much longer can Boniek contribute to the club at this level? His professionalism and the way he's taken care of his body show no signs of that being anytime soon. Another 200 appearances may be too much to ask, however.

Dynamo player of the game: Joe Willis

Next up:

Saturday, May 4 vs FC Dallas (3 p.m. CT, Twitter / Univision)

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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