THE BIG MAN'S HOT START ALLOWS GM TO BE PICKY AND FLEXIBLE

Yordan Alvarez gives Luhnow and Astros options

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Yordan Alvarez has been everything and more for the Houston Astros in his first experience in the big leagues. His first hit was a home run, his plate discipline and hitting eye have been sharp and he has displayed power to all fields in putting up outstanding numbers in his first 6 games. Hitting .381 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in his first 6 Major League games has not only put him in rare air and elite company, but it has also put GM Jeff Luhnow in the power position of being able to be picky as he looks for ways he can improve this team through trades.

I fully expect that Alvarez will come back down to earth at some point, but if he can maintain his eye and ability to make solid contact he should get better and better as he sees the game slow down and he gets accustomed to major league pitching and life in the big leagues.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Luhnow and the Astros were one of a few teams talking to the Seattle Mariners about Edwin Encarnacion, the league leader in home runs that was wasting away on a team going nowhere in the American League West. The Yankees ended up swinging the deal to get the power hitting slugger, as the Astros were said to not be willing to take on as much of his salary as the hyper-wealthy Bronx Bombers.

That's a sure sign that Luhnow isn't in panic mode and will not overreact or make rash decisions when considering ways to improve this team. Before Alvarez was called up and the team was in the midst of an injury-plagued stretch of games, he may have had a different mindset. Now that the big man is up and raking, the GM can afford to be selective and patient as he navigates and negotiates the trade market.

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Instead of focusing on a bat for the middle of the lineup and a potential power hitter like Encarnacion, Alvarez allows Luhnow the luxury of focussing on available starting pitchers that could strengthen his rotation. Prospects that were being considered as potential trade chips for a bat can now be used to obtain a valuable arm. Names like Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner, Cory Kluber, and Andrew Cashner can be the main focus instead of trying to spread out his prospects to be considered in multiple deals to attempt to get a quality hitter as well as an experienced starting pitcher.

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Obviously, the situation remains fluid as Alvarez now goes on his first road trip with the big club. He is considered a defensive liability at most positions and with the National League opponents taking away the DH, it will be interesting to see where he plays and how games away from Minute Maid Park affect his at-bats.

Assuming everyone currently out of action with injuries return to the lineup healthy at some point soon, Luhnow and his staff will be able to further evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the roster and what position possesses the most pressing need for improvement. It could be an arms race and then again, it could result in a power struggle. One thing is for sure, the Astros new young slugger, Yordan Alvarez, has put them in a position of strength in more ways than one.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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