HOUSTON IS STILL THE CREAM OF THE A.L. WEST CROP

Astros fans, here's why the grass is still greener in H-Town

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Astros fans are getting close to panic mode these days as they hold their breath waiting for MLB to make their ruling on the sign-stealing scandal and deal with whatever punishment is handed down. The fact that both AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow could be facing lengthy suspensions, and the team could lose draft picks and get strapped with a significant fine has every Astros fan biting every last finger nail in hopes of some last minute saving grace.

While I get it that until the ruling comes down and the ramifications are known, it's a very stressful situation, the good news is, regardless of that decision and whatever moves the team makes between now and late March, your baseball team is still in the drivers seat to win another A.L. West title and another opportunity to compete for a World Series crown.

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Unlike in previous years when the competition in the division has either stood pat with financial concerns (A's), went for it with a quick fix plan for one year of success (Mariners), or overspent for over-the-hill, veteran, free agents and journeymen (Angels), this offseason the competition has been very savvy in their attempts to get on par with Houston. The Angels opened their checkbook and added Anthony Rendon to compliment Mike Trout, but they are still forced to deal with the Albert Pujols contract and a lack of pitching talent and depth.

The Mariners are in full rebuild mode and don't seem to be doing anything but getting worse in the short-term and the A's are standing pat with a solid core of young talent and the hope that they can keep the train moving forward for another season. The hated Rangers have traded for Corey Kluber to give them a legitimate Ace at the front of their rotation but still have significant holes to fill in their lineup as well as their pitching staff. If the trend continues for the rest of the winter and these are the biggest and best moves those 3 teams can muster, Houston should feel very confident heading to Florida for spring training.

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I get it if you are concerned about losing Gerrit Cole and have questions about Lance McCullers and the young arms being able to pick up the slack and replace the innings and stats. I also understand if you worry about who will play catcher and how many arms Luhnow will re-sign and add to the pen. I'm with you if you wonder what they are going to do to shed salary obligations and free up money to be able to plan for the upcoming contract issues they will face with George Springer, Carlos Correa and others, but those decisions are at least a year away and none of that should significantly impact the talent and lineup that will take the field for at least one more season at Minute Maid Park.

As long as you still have Justin Verlander and Zack Grienke at the top of your rotation, the core four of Springer, Bregman, Altuve and Correa in the middle of your lineup, complimentary pieces like Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley and a back end of the bullpen that consists of Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, you are better than three-quarters of the rest of the league. I know it's not the preview you have gotten used to over the last three years when almost everyone made you their odds on favorite to win it all, but it could be a lot worse. You could be the Mariners or Orioles.

Most front offices and most fan bases would kill to have a team like that to cheer for, even for just one year, you will have it in place for yet another campaign and that should be more than enough for all H-town faithful to be thankful for while sitting around the tree next week. Of course, it's ok to have asked Santa for another starting pitcher, a solid veteran catcher and some bullpen help or a trade partner for Josh Reddick, but all in all, even though you didn't get Cole in your stocking the holiday should be a time to feel hungry, happy and satisfied.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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