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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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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