CHARLIE PALLILO

Astros forced to 'settle' for solid year; will have to retool for next season

Dallas Keuchel has likely seen his time as an Astro come to an end. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros slogan for 2018 was “Never Settle.” A bit of a bummer typing that using past tense. Sometimes in life one is forced to settle. There is zero shame in losing to a team as tremendous as the Boston Red Sox have been all year. And it’s not as if the Astros “settled” via lesser effort or desire. They were beaten by a Sox squad that validated its record as the best team in the American League. So the Astros settle for one World Series championship. At least for now. The Astros had a heckuva team this year and should have a heckuva team for the next several years.

Even having the clearly best team (which the Astros did not) assures little in terms of winning it all in baseball. After the Cubs broke their 108 year championship drought in 2016 the “D” (as in dynasty) word was thrown around. Two years later they haven’t been back to the Series, this year they didn’t even survive the Wild Card game.

The Astros have some serious personnel questions to answer this offseason, but their core remains phenomenal. Having graduated so much talent to the majors, their farm system is no longer one of the three or four best in the game but there is still enough depth to deal. Pursuing Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto should be obligatory for General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Brian McCann is basically at the end of the line. Martin Maldonado isn’t good enough to be resigned and handed the primary job. He had an oddly bad series behind the plate against Boston. Max Stassi is not a prospect of consequence.

Do they try to resign one of Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton? Keuchel probably gets too much money elsewhere. His innings eating has value. Lance McCullers simply cannot be counted on for a healthy full season. And Keuchel had the better ERA this year. Collin McHugh may wind up back in the rotation. Josh James and Framber Valdez are potential factors.

Their top free agent resign priority should be Marwin Gonzalez. After an awful first half Marwin got it back together and his versatility is tremendous. But what will the free agent market offer him?

The Astros are in a manageable payroll situation for 2019. Starting in 2020 they have huge financial balls to juggle or drop. Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole can both be free agents after next season. In 2020 Jose Altuve’s salary jumps from nine and a half to 29 million dollars. George Springer will command a raise from 12 million dollars. Carlos Correa will enter his second year of salary arbitration, Alex Bregman his first.  The Astros aren’t jacking up ticket prices out of pure greed.

Dynasties are never guaranteed.

West’s World

With finality: the Astros were not screwed over on the fan interference call in the first inning of game four. Umpire Joe West will never win Mr. Congeniality, but he’s a good umpire who saw interference clearly occur and made a call. Whether actionable interference occurred was the question. No video or picture conclusively showed Mookie Betts's glove was fully over the wall when the interference occurred.

However, West being West he was full of crap in claiming to a pool reporter that “the replay official said I was right.” Um, no. The call was not confirmed as right, the call was upheld because of the lack of any conclusive evidence to overturn the call.

Defense optional

The Rockets Wednesday night caught a break with Astros-Red Sox dominating the spotlight. I’m pretty sure that getting blown off of their homecourt a la game seven against the Warriors was not the Run It Back the Rockets had in mind.

Overreacting to the first of 82 regular season games is ridiculous, but Carmelo Anthony’s debut was a dud. Three for 10 shooting and a prominent part played in a Rockets’ defense that was an utter joke. The fast-paced Pelicans are potent led by perhaps the best both ends player in the NBA in Anthony Davis, but it was brow raising to see the Rockets torched for 131 points. Brow raising, get it?

There’s a rumor afloat that LeBron James signed with the Lakers over the summer. If so the Rockets certainly have a high profile opportunity to bounce back from their opening night debacle, at Staples Center Saturday night in LeBron’s regular season Laker home debut.

Going South

The AFC South has reverted to stink bomb status which is very helpful for the Texans. As mediocre as they obviously are, should the Texans spring an upset in Jacksonville Sunday they become the definite favorite to win the division. I don’t expect upset springing, unless the Jaguars’ team ego grew so bloated after last season’s run the AFC Championship game that their season is going to continue its recent downward spiral.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It stunk hitting “cancel” on Boston flight reservations.  2. Neither the Longhorns nor Aggies play this weekend. Maybe they could get up a flag football game or something.   3. Best state flags: Bronze-Alaska Silver-California Gold-Texas

 

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Laremy Tunsil's absence is something to note after missing time last season. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans took to the field for OTA practice on Wednesday. Here are 11 observations from the practice.

1. Derek Stingley doesn't take full reps yet. Stingley is working up to full reps after last year's injury-plagued college season. Lovie Smith said the plan is to work to get Stingley, as well as other rookies, up to full reps in practice.

2. Despite not having full reps, it doesn't mean the third overall pick can't impress. Stingley did well in the drills with other defensive backs showcasing his agility and quickness. During one of the team drills, Stingley effortlessly matched step for step with Chris Conley on a play that finished on the other side of the field. It was also surprising to see Stingley working on punt returns as well.

3. It is just shorts and helmets so not much can be gleaned from the team's other first-round pick Kenyon Green. Green worked at left guard with a variety of other offensive linemen. Lovie Smith made it clear there are currently no first, second, or third teams for the Texans. Green's pre-season analysis will pick up when training camp and pads roll around.

4. Max Scharping looks to be in phenomenal shape. The former second-round pick has been a disappointment in his time with the Texans. Scharping enters a year when he will need to battle to remain on the roster. It seems the delicacy of his roster spot led to an incredible offseason for Scharping.

5. Laremy Tunsil and Maliek Collins are two veterans who are not at the optional team activities. Lovie Smith detailed he has spoken to any player who isn't here and understands this is indeed optional.

6. With Laremy Tunsil missing, Charlie Heck saw snaps at left tackle. The team's right tackle for the majority of last year looks, like the above-mentioned Scharping, to be in great shape. He was moving well on a few of the plays which required the line to get out and block.

7. Roy Lopez, who was a surprise contributor last year, had what would have been a great play in a full-speed game situation. Lopez darted past the offensive line sniffing out a reverse and tapped the receiver as he went by. It would've been a 10-yard loss and a smushed wideout in a live game.

8. Nico Collins had a few nice plays. Collins displays his athleticism and he made some nice cuts in his routes to get open.

9. Pharaoh Brown and Marlon Mack had two bad drops in the team portions. Brown made up for it later with the catch of the day, sliding to haul in a Davis Mills pass near the sideline.

10. This is not an impressive tight end group overall. Not yet, at least. There are several new faces and their actual tight end abilities are unknown to this point. Brevin Jordan had some nice plays in the open field and Davis Mills found him a few times on dump-off passes. Rookie Teagan Quitoriano didn't practice today.

11. Davis Mills operates with the calmness of a player who is the for sure unquestioned starting quarterback. As he should, that's what he is for the Texans. Mills didn't show off a lot in this practice but he didn't make too many mistakes. There was a wideout miscommunication that almost went for an interception. There is a clear emphasis on getting the ball out on time for Pep Hamilton's offense. Mills had a few chances to drive a deep pass, but opted for a quick pass to not hold onto the ball too long. This should be expected and obvious, but he isn't anywhere near the quarterback I saw last year have one of the worst training camp practices of all time.

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