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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The Texans are moving in the wrong direction. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

1. This team started incredibly slow and outside of a couple of drives in the second half disappointed. The defense got worked by the Chargers' star players, and the offense sputtered too often. It was really a summary of the season up to this point which is to say inconsistency.

2. Davis Mills was shaky early. The first drive interception was tough to stomach. The pocket got messy as he tried to drive the ball and he floated one up there. It gave the Chargers an easy drive for seven points.

3. One of the early offensive mistakes erased a scoring opportunity. Kenyon Green got nailed for a holding call that erased one of the best passes and catches between Brandin Cooks and Davis Mills all season. The rookie’s mistake was compounded the very next play when the offense allowed Mills to be sacked. It was a 40-yard swing that led to a punt.

4. Another third down penalty led to a mishap for the Texans. Laremy Tunsil gets a false start on third down to make it third and 10. The shovel pass to Rex Burkhead goes for six yards and then the Texans botch the field goal. Back-to-back drives and third-down penalties affected the offense and ended with no points. That was all just in the first quarter!

5. The Texans were abysmal with short yardage in key spots yet again. In the second quarter, Pep Hamilton opted for a pass on fourth and one. Davis Mills never got the play off and was sacked. After the game, Mills said the team wanted to catch the Chargers off guard running when most expected a pass, but Rex Burkhead was the running back. It was again a situation, a key and critical moment, that the team trusted Burkhead over the more dynamic Dameon Pierce.

6. The Chargers were very chunky on offense against the Texans. There were 16 plays that went for at least ten yards for the Chargers of their 67 plays. Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler were fantastic for Los Angeles.

7. The pass rush was non-existent for the Texans. This was one of the more disappointing aspects of the day to consider the Chargers were playing a rookie right guard, their center is injured but playing, and the left tackle was a backup left tackle. Nothing seemed to get home on an injured Justin Herbert. The Texans recorded just two quarterback hits in the game.

8. The linebackers got worked again. This is the absolute weakest unit on the team right now. They look like they’re easily exploited by most opposing offenses.

9. It was a rough day for the rookie class of the Texans. Derek Stingley was handled by Mike Williams on multiple occasions in key spots. Kenyon Green allowed a big sack and had a holding penalty erase a huge play. Jalen Pitre was the target of some offensive success in the Chargers' passing game.

10. Not all the rookies had a bad day. Dameon Pierce is so much fun to watch. He has the chance to be a truly impactful player for this team. His 75-yard touchdown scamper gave the team some juice, and he constantly fights and gets extra yards when the ball is headed his way. He finished with 14 carries and six catches for 20 total touches.

11. The Texans need teams to help them stay in games, and even then, it is a challenge. The tough part about where the Texans are through four games is there are some positives to look at and point to, but not enough to say the team is surely headed in the right direction. There surely has to be some adjustment by the team when the season is where it is after nearly a quarter of the year. The current direction isn’t going to lead anywhere positive soon.

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