Astros secret weapon could be the key to pulling away from A's

The schedule gives the Astros an edge over the A's. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Off a disappointing three win three loss homestand the Astros are now on the road for seven, with the Oakland Athletics closing in on them in the American League West race. While going 3-3 at home against the Twins and Rockies grades the Astros a D, Oakland has been making straight A's the past week winning seven straight games to draw within a game and a half of the Astros. Just over two weeks ago the gap was six games.

The schedule could be the Astros secret weapon

A 162 game season has plenty of ebb and flow. The A's are flowing right now, but the Astros should win the division unless the A's whip up on them in the six remaining head-to-head games they'll play in the last week and a half of the season. The Astros have the much easier remaining schedule. While the Astros have been confoundingly average against sub-.500 teams, you'd still rather have the chance to slaughter lambs than face a steady diet of really good teams. The A's play the awful Rangers three in Arlington this weekend but then have 13 in a row against winning teams: four at Chicago (White Sox), then three vs. the Giants, two vs. the Mariners, and four vs. the Yankees. Over the Astros' next 16 games only three are versus a winning team, the Mariners at Minute Maid Park next weekend.

No need to nickname Alex Bregman "Godot" just yet but boy have the Astros and Astros' fans been waiting for his return. And waiting. When Bregman finally plays in an Astro uniform again it will have been more than two months since he went down. Bregman's lingering quad issue coupled with his prior history of quad and hamstring problems seems to make it unlikely he becomes the Astros' everyday shortstop should Carlos Correa leave via free agency. Shortstop is more physically demanding than third base. Just a couple of years ago it was plausible to think Bregman would be at least as good defensively at short as Correa if not better. Not now. The Astros didn't move Cuban center field prospect Pedro Leon to playing mostly at short this year by accident. Unfortunately Leon has been out himself since late July with a broken pinky. The minor league season started late this year and hence will end later. In fact the Sugar Land Skeeters' regular season is scheduled to end the same day as the Astros'. So Leon should be back to play the final three to four weeks. If Correa is gone, Leon as the Opening Day '22 shortstop is pushing it, but top tier prospects are supposed to be pushed.

For the season the Astros have outscored their opponents in every inning one thru nine. In extra innings they've been outscored 23-14.

In one run games this season the Astros are 12-12. In two run games they are 8-10. In games decided by three or more, 48-26.

Rocket launch

Coming off what was arguably the most miserable season in franchise history the Rockets and their fans can use any sort of uplifting action. Two summer league games are barely a snack, but man did top draft pick Jalen Green whet the appetite. His athletic burst coupled with skill level are extremely promising. Green was off to a third excellent game Thursday night before leaving with a sore hamstring. The regular season is more than two months away but man that better be minor.

Texans vs. Packers

The Texans play their preseason opener Saturday night at Green Bay. The Packers have smoked at least a one more season peace pipe with reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers. The Texans, not so with Deshaun Watson. At least there are only three preseason games now, ahead of the new 17 game regular season.

The Texans credibility level more or less matches their talent level these days. New General Manager Nick Caserio gives them a chance to rebuild both, but at this point they have little. So it was an extra lame move of the Texans to attempt to cut off media access to practice two weeks earlier than NFL rules dictate. That attempt seems highly unlikely to have occurred without Caserio's stamp of approval. Who knows about Jack Easterby's involvement. Or maybe it was just a misunderstanding…

Buzzer Beaters:

1. The Texans list Deshaun Watson fourth on their quarterback depth chart this week. Then why list him at all?

2. Nothing whatsoever against Iowa, but I don't recall ever thinking "Wish I was in Iowa tonight." Until Thursday night. The "Field of Dreams" game looked amazing. The players entering the field out of the cornfield was fantastic. As was the 1989 movie. If never seen it, well worth finding.

3. Greatest Hawkeyes: Bronze-Benjamin Franklin Pierce Silver-Harry Kalas Gold-Nile Kinnick

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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