Catching Up

5 quick thoughts on the current state of Houston sports

Mike D'Antoni and Chris Paul
Rockets.com

June is usually when most of us take time off, because that is when things slow down in the sports world. After two weeks off, I returned to find I missed out on quite a bit. After a week in Vegas for the WSOP and another in Canada for some R & R, it's time to catch up on some big topics:


1) The Canada Curse is real

Blame me for the Astros seven game losing streak. Every time I am out of the country, everything goes to hell. The Texans record when I am in Canada? They are 0-3. The Astros did not win a game while I was there. I think it is time for the fan bases to take up a collection to make sure I go when none of the local teams are playing.

2) Despite that losing streak...

Yordan Alvarez might be one of the most exciting prospects the Astros have had since...Carlos Correa? Alex Bregman? He has not missed a beat since coming up from Triple-A, where he was putting up MVP like numbers. He has a smooth, powerful swing, and the scary part is he is only 21 years old. Yes, teams will figure him out at some point and he will have to adjust, but if he is anything close to what he has shown? The Astros will have yet another star. As for the losing streak? These are going to happen in a long season. The Astros are getting healthy again, and at some point adding a third top-line starter will have them back in the mix for another World Series title.

3) Shakeup in the AAC and how it impacts UH

UConn is going to return to the Big East, primarily because of travel and the fact that the school is focused primarily on basketball. The future of its football program is up in the air. What does it mean for UH and the AAC? It's probably a good thing. UConn basketball has fallen off the face of the earth, and the once-proud program offers little to the AAC. The football program, also once on the cusp of success, has been in a tailspin. It would not take much in the way of a program to be an upgrade for the conference. But sticking with 11 would not be the worst thing in the world, either. It would mean a bigger split for the remaining schools, and is there really a program out there that would move the needle? BYU? Sure, but they seem happy as independents. Boise? Success, but offers little in the way of a TV market and travel is an issue. Maybe Air Force or Army, but beyond that, there really is not a program that adds much. Buffalo out of the MAC is on the rise, and might be worth a look, but the conference might be better off at 11. The addition of Wichita State in basketball was a good trade-up from UConn and this might be a case of addition by subtraction.

4) Rockets dead stare

There's a beef between James Harden and Chris Paul. There's not a beef between Harden and Paul. The coach is upset. The coach isn't upset. Who knows what is going on with the Rockets? This team is close, and the Warriors are set to take a step back. But what if the Clippers sign Khawi Leonard? The Lakers have made moves, but they are still a mess, so who knows. The Rockets have to be chafing at the fact that the Toronto Raptors were able to go all in and win the title. Chris Paul's onerous contract will be tough to work around, but they should be adding, not subtracting. One more try with this group would not be a bad thing. But they need some stability, and nothing they are doing right now screams that. At least the Texans have taken some of the heat off...

5) Oh my, Texans

The Texans have become an absolute mess. No GM? No problem, right? Bill O'Brien is on the case. O'Brien is a good coach. But so far, he has not shown himself to be a great one. Or even a very good one. Now he is head coach, de facto OC and GM? While it's a leap to say all the firings were racially motivated, the more likely scenario is O'Brien just wanted "his guys." At worst it is a bad look. So he is basically reading from the Bill Belichick playbook. We have seen this before. The problem is, O'Brien is not Belichick. Neither likes to be questioned by the media or anyone else. The best managers have a combination of people underneath them who understand the vision and goals, and others who will challenge those. Most organizations in the NFL don't like the latter. O'Brien is a perfect example of this. The good news is we will now know how to blame. If it works? O'Brien looks like a genius. But if it spirals out of control - which is a real possibility - there will be no one else responsible. The Texans have been the picture of stability to a fault. Now they seem to be falling part at the seams. Here is hoping it all works out. But skepticism is warranted.

The wrap-up

Honestly, things are not that bad. Thank goodness for the Astros, who are run like a model franchise, and UH athletics, which seems to be in a really good place. The Rockets should be fine, once they sit back and realize that adding a couple key pieces could make all the difference in the world. As for the Texans? We will find out soon enough. The flagship franchise of the city, however, is at a crossroads. It is not a rudderless ship, but can the rudder steer them where they want to go? That remains to be seen.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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