How the Astros finally conquered the gap between media and reality

All-Star voting is done by fans, not the media. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Seven Houston Astros, two more than any other team, are in the final running for starting positions on the American League All-Star team. What does this tell us … other than these players are having big seasons and the Astros lineup is stacked for another drive to the post-season?

Obviously there's a disconnect between the media's coverage of the Astros and how actual, real-life, talent-appreciating baseball fans feel about the Astros.

This was supposed to be baseball's summer of discontent toward the Astros, the fans' first chance to express in-person their disgust and hatred of the Astros since news broke of their illegal sign-stealing in 2017 and possibly beyond.

If you follow the national media's coverage of the Astros' season so far, let's go to the video, you'll see fans holding "Astros cheaters" signs and chanting "F-Houston." You'd think the Astros were a despised band of rogues and the team needed to be banished from baseball. You'd think the Astros lineup consists of Hannibal Lecter at first, Freddy Krueger at second, Snidely Whiplash at short and Hans Gruber (from Diehard, my favorite movie villain) at third base.

But like they say on the Weakest Link, "it's votes that count." All-Star voting is done by fans, not the media, and the Astros are crushing the ballot box.

The Astros' real-life infield: Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman all finished Top 3 and qualified for the final runoff vote this week. Catcher Martin Maldonado, outfielder Michael Brantley and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez also made the final cut.

Consider that the same four infielders played for the 2017 championship Astros and have been receiving the brunt of boos in ballparks and media criticism. Altuve is the bull's-eye on the Astros target. There's no denying that Gurriel, Correa, Brantley are having sensational seasons, but injured Bregman is having a down year, Maldonado is hitting a teeny .171 and fans still voted for them.

Fans, the true umpires of the games, are voting in droves for these supposed scoundrels. If anything, there should be an eighth Astros on the runoff ballot: Kyle Tucker, after a rough start, has been every bit an All-Star. It just shows how loaded the Astros offense is - Tucker bats seventh most games.

In numbers there is strength. The Astros lead the American League in team batting average, RBI, hits, on base percentage, slugging, runs scored and probably pine tar used, bubblegum chewed, crotches adjusted … why not?

The Astros hope of landing multiple players on the All-Star team is boosted because the deadline for fans voting is Thursday and the Astros are playing at home this week. When the Astros play at Minute Maid Park, fan interest rises, the games start at a reasonable time and, Monday night's ninth-inning fizzle notwithstanding, they usually win.

As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often, which is illegal in politics, but encouraged in baseball. While no Astros finished first in his position race, anything can happen in elections. For this second and final stage, you can vote once every day. So start the steal, for real this time.

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We'll see if Watson is in pads on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans.

The Houston Texans had their last practice before pads come on for the first time on Tuesday. There was plenty to see on Monday.

1. Deshaun Watson had his usual extremely light level of work. He did very little throwing to teammates, though he did throw to the tight ends in 1-on-1 drills.

2. Texans head coach David Culley said "nothing has changed" when asked if Deshaun Watson will be in pads Tuesday. Culley has maintained that answer for a couple of sessions now.

3. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was back after missing Saturday with an excused personal day. Taylor has been the best quarterback in camp by a wide margin. Taylor makes better decisions with the football than other quarterbacks, but he does struggle on deeper passes. Taylor missed wildly on one deep ball and was a little wobbly on another.

4. Nobody in camp can cover wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This could be the easiest training camp of his life. He easily gets open in 1-on-1 situations.

5. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins continues to flash his abilities in camp. Collins easily shook loose from defensive back John Reid and took the route vertical for an easy score. Collins later had a tough catch in traffic.

6. It's only been a few days, but the competition for inside wide receiver reps is tough. Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has looked quick and nothing like the "draft bust" the Bears fans watched. Keke Coutee has rarely lost a rep, but Desmond King did win a few times over Coutee in the opening days of camp. Former Bengals wideout Alex Erickson finds himself constantly open. The cuts at wide receiver are already shaking out to be difficult.

7. Davis Mills bounced back in a sense that he couldn't be worse than he was on Saturday. The performance from Mills on Saturday was abysmal, but head coach David Culley said he liked how Mills responded today. With Tyrod Taylor back, there were fewer reps for Mills, but he had some impressive throws to go along with an off-target throw or two. Mills was far better than Jeff Driskel on Monday. Driskel tossed two interceptions right to defenders, including one that would've gone the wrong way for a score.

8. This linebacker group is interesting. With a new defensive scheme under Lovie Smith, the type of linebacker is very different from previous years. There was a clear emphasis on cover ability as these linebackers were added to the team.

9. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis have both had some significant wins for the linebackers in coverage.

10. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looks the part physically, but he's had a rough few days, including a drop on Monday.

11. With the pads coming on Tuesday, it will be fun to watch the rebuilt defensive line clash with the many combinations of the offensive line. There will be no J.J. Watt who historically stirred up the team on day one of pads. Laremy Tunsil's cool confidence about the offensive line over the weekend leads me to believe they are a confident group, while there are spots to be won on the defensive side of the line.

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