DEL OLALEYE

Alabama continues to roll; Aggies still can't close out games

Nick Saban and Alabama continue to roll. Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Alabama dispatches LSU   

The only people who thought LSU had a chance to win Saturday night were fans of LSU. They showed up strong inside and outside of Tiger Stadium and with good reason if you’re a...lets just say exuberant(delusional) fan. Their favorite team was ranked 3rd in the first College Football Playoff poll and had already beaten a Top 5 Georgia team in Death Valley earlier this season. Tigers fans had dreams of ending their losing streak to Alabama and Nick Saban as LSU hadn’t beat the Crimson Tide since 2011. Unfortunately, Georgia isn’t Alabama and Jake Fromm isn’t Tua Tagovailoa. There are no positives to take away from getting shut out 29-0 at home. For all the anticipation going into the the game the gulf between the two SEC West rivals appears as large as ever. LSU coach Ed Orgeron says he needs better players on his offensive and defensive fronts to compete with Alabama. While that may be true, the difference in quarterback play can’t be overlooked. LSU has been deficient at the position for almost a decade. With a potential Heisman winner playing the position for Alabama, the lack of productivity for LSU at the position is only exacerbated. Great quarterback play beats the Tide. You are never going to out-recruit them in the trenches. Find that special one at quarterback LSU. It is the only chance you’ve got.

Closing out games remains a problem for the Aggies

The early season optimism from of all things playing Clemson to two points and beating Kentucky has evaporated for Texas A&M. In the last two weeks, themes that consistently plagued Kevin Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M have re-emerged. The Aggies can’t close teams out. The inability to defend a 3rd and 21 against Mississippi State deep in Bulldogs territory in the fourth quarter changed the complexion of that game. At the time it was a one-point game in Starkville. Jimbo Fisher’s team went on to lose that game by two scores. The misery didn’t end there. Leading by ten points in the fourth quarter over a scuffling Auburn team this past Saturday, Texas A&M missed a field goal, threw an interception and allowed a huge punt return. All three of those things contributed to a devastating loss that dropped the Aggies to 5-4. Losing to Alabama and LSU had come to be expected during Sumlin’s time in Aggieland. Getting beat by the likes of the Mississippi schools and Auburn drastically changed the complexion of Sumlin’s final seasons in College Station and eventually led to his dismissal. Fisher has all the job security in the world. You just don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the guy who you replaced. A loss to Ole Miss on Saturday would mean paying Fisher about $7.5 million a year resulted in not much changing on the field for the Aggies.

College Football Playoff Game of the Week

10 Ohio State vs 18 Michigan State

The Buckeyes need to be impressive if they have any chance of making people forget about the ass kicking Iowa gave them. Somehow the committee thinks a very average Michigan State team deserves a top-20 ranking. A win for Ohio State over a “quality” opponent keeps them in the race for a playoff spot. A matchup with No. 4 Michigan in The Horseshoe is looming.


 

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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.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

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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