Falcon Points

After the off-season from hell, what do the Astros look like on the field in 2020?

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Astros apparently have a new manager in Dusty Baker. They soon will have a new GM. They have the same basic lineup as last year.

So with all the off-field turmoil, suspensions that became firings and high profile scandals, how will things play out on the field where it matters most?

One outlet had the Astros as the SEVENTH best team in baseball heading into the season. We will spare you the need to click on the story, and just tell you they had the Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Rays, Nationals and Twins ahead of Houston.

Still a potent lineup

Unless you believe the only reason the Astros hitters were any good was the cheating scandal (and hey, there are those who think that), this is still one of the best lineups in all of baseball. While decisions will have to be made after the season on several key pieces (George Springer, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley most notably) for 2020 they are still loaded with Springer, Altuve, Bregman, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Gurriel, Brantley, Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker all returning. No team outside of LA or New York can boast that kind of lineup. Jake Marisnick is gone, but presumably that opens up innings for Myles Straw, an exciting prospect with terrific speed, something the Astros do not have at that level in the lineup.

The bigger issue

The article's main issue is with the Astros starting pitching. Behind ace Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke are a lot of question marks. But few teams can match the Astros 1-2 punch. The names behind them though hardly inspire confidence. Lance McCullers will be on a pitch count coming off Tommy John surgery. Jose Urquidy has too small of a sample size. Forrest Whitley remains a myth. Austin Pruitt could be a sneaky good addition, however, and the Astros can always add someone at the trade deadline. More on that in a moment.

What about the bullpen?

The Astros lost Will Harris, but bring back Ryan Pressley, who was dominant until getting hurt, the controversial Roberto Osuna and Joe Smith on the back end. Josh James might be a contender to start, along with Brad Peacock. If not, they will help in relief. Harris was great for them last year, but the Astros in the past have done a terrific job of finding pitchers like that. Which brings us to the final question...

Loss of Luhnow

While the loss of A.J. Hinch can be mitigated - managers are not all that difficult to replace - life after GM Jeff Luhnow is a major question mark. Luhnow could be trusted to add players at the deadline (Verlander in 2017, Greinke in 2019), find some hidden gems (Charlie Morton) and add players that fit the Astros analytics approach. Will they still be that kind of team? Will Baker buy in if they are? Pitching coach Brent Strom remains, and should continue to work his magic. But will Luhknow's replacement be able to find the right kind of arms for him? Will the new analytics team be as effective?

These are all valid questions.

However...

Putting them seventh seems more like wishful thinking from a bitter media. The 2021 Astros will have serious questions and in fact might plummet out of contention entirely, depending on what moves happen in the next 12 months. But for 2020? Sure, Verlander and Greinke could both fall off the map, the other starters fail to stabilize and the team simply does not get it done. But that is a lot to go wrong. More likely, the lineup continues to pound the ball, Verlander and Greinke carry them and someone else emerges as decent 2-3 rotation pieces. That being the case, the only team that enters the season in the AL better on paper is the Yankees, who were almost as good as the Astros last season and poached one of their best weapons, and figure to be healthier in 2020.

Distractions?

Yes it has been wild off-season. But other than Luhnow, does it have any real impact on what happens on the field? Probably not. There could be some regressions - Alvarez most notably - but the offense has more than enough weapons. Straw could wind up being a sneaky good weapon. Tucker could finally emerge. If that happens, the so-called distractions will have minimal if any impact on the product on the field.

So yes, seventh seems a but silly, but fortunately, baseball scribes with their biases don't determine what happens on the field. The players do.

And the Astros still have plenty of those.

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Another tough loss for the Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans started fast but faltered late as the New York Jets hand Houston their ninth loss of the season 21-14. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Starting safety Justin Reid was benched for the game. David Culley said after the game it was his decision as head coach and he would keep the matter internal with Reid.

2. This is the third defender benched for disciplinary reasons this season. Reid joins Zach Cunningham and Desmond King as players who missed time for discipline.

3. Justin Reid told Fox 26 he was benched because he had a disagreement with the coaching staff. He also said he was shocked the Texans benched him. You have to wonder if the “culture” the team is building is right when one of the more likable and personable players falls victim to their rules. Reid, who is a free agent this offseason, could leave the Texans.

4. Tyrod Taylor had a couple of nice plays early on for the Texans. His willingness to take some shots downfield was refreshing and led to a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

5. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan found the end zone. He has played well in recent weeks after finally getting on the field. Jordan is playing over Jordan Akins as Akins was a healthy scratch again this week.

6. Tytus Howard started at left tackle with mixed results. Howard has struggled to find his way at guard but could be a long-term option at tackle if given the chance.

7. The offensive line overall played poorly after some early success. The pass rush of the Jets got going and the run blocking was poor again. Lane Taylor played at left guard some, with Max Scharping also playing some at that spot.

8. The offense was horrendous after the two scoring drives. The Texans amassed 202 net yards with 91 yards coming on those two scoring drives. Houston gained just 49 net yards after their opening three drives.

9. After the game, I asked David Culley if he would be making a change with his play-caller. Culley stood behind offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and said he would remain the team’s play-caller.

10. Second-year defensive lineman Ross Blacklock had two horrible errors that handed the Jets a chance to turn three points into seven points. Blacklock got a personal foul on a field goal attempt giving the Jets a first down. The very next play his offsides penalty erased a sack. Each week Blacklock falls even more behind a bevy of players drafted after him who contribute positively on a regular basis.

11. The loss to another bottom-dweller has the Texans back in the second spot in the 2022 NFL Draft order. It also feels like the deflating nature of this loss erased some of the good feelings after the victory over the Titans. The Indianapolis Colts come to Houston next week to begin December’s portion of the schedule.

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