KEEP THE FAITH

All the reasons you should still feel great about the Astros' chances

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I can read a box score. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, heck, even utility man Myles Straw, are all hitting well below their career batting averages. Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, hasn't made an appearance yet. Justin Verlander, last year's Cy Young winner, and Roberto Osuna, the American League's saves leader, are on the injured list, perhaps for the season. One starter, Lance McCullers, has an ERA over 9, while another starter, Josh James, already has been banished to the bullpen. The bullpen, with Osuna gone, is a giant, inexperienced question mark. And don't forget, last year's best pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole, left the Astros to sign with the Yankees.

Take Thursday night (please). Ryan Pressly was brought into the game in the ninth to protect a 1-run Astros lead. He closed it, all right. Pressley gave up a walk, single, single and double - game over, Astros lose. Pressley began the night with a 13.50 ERA, and left with a 40.50 ERA. I didn't know ERA could go that high.

Let's review: so far in 2020, more than half of the Astros top hitters are in a slump. The team lost, not its two best pitchers, but both of baseball's two best pitchers. Their starting rotation has been decimated. Their top reliever may be done. Their slugging DH has yet to swing the bat. New manager, new general manager. As the Beatles once sang, it can't get no worse. I'm not happy with the grammar.

Break it to me gently. Surely they're in last place, but how many games out of first? Don't tell me they've already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Wait, are you saying the Astros are 6-6 for the season, only a couple of games behind Oakland for first place in the American League West? And they have three games coming up against the A's, and if the Astros sweep, they'll be in first?

The first 20 percent of the season is gone in a blink. Things couldn't have gone more horrendously for the Astros, and they're still playing .500 ball. If the playoffs started today, the Astros, even with their cursed season, would be in the mix. Surely, Altuve, Bregman and Springer's bats will come alive. The Astros will find more pitching arms. The bullpen, riddled with injuries and rookies, will gain experience and confidence..

And that's why I'm sticking with my prediction that the Astros will win the American League West (for the fourth time in a row), repeat as American League champions, and beat the Dodgers for the World Series title. I don't know which would please me more, the Astros winning, or the Dodgers losing. Take that, pouty face Joe Kelly.

You know that Springer will start bashing home runs, assuming his wrist is okay. Bregman will be Bregman. Reddick will be fine. Michael Brantley will bat .300. If Carlos Correa stays hot and off the massage table, the Astros will be, maybe not a murderer's row, but a reduced charge of manslaughter. Despite the slumps, injuries and absences, the Astros lineup is leading the league in runs scored. When Alvarez returns, look out.

Remember, with this improbable, 60-game schedule, the Astros don't have to finish first, although they will, or even second in the AL West. This season is just about making the playoffs. Sixteen teams, more than half of all the teams, will qualify for the post-season tournament. That's crazy hockey talk.

If you're a good team, which the Astros certainly are, the real goal of the 2020 season is to get to October with your position players healthy and your pitching rotation rested for Game 1 of whatever MLB is calling the first round of playoffs.

Now all we need is general manager James Click to find us some starting pitchers and a reliever or two. And Alvarez to show up. And Altuve and Bregman and Springer to start raking. And just maybe, "do you believe in miracles" Verlander to come back. The Astros aren't giving up, and neither should we.

My biggest worry about the Astros 2020 season? How do you hold a World Series parade in downtown Houston with social distancing?

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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