Astros Organization Saves the Day for Houston as Rockets and Texans Wallow in Uncertainty

Astros front office soars while Rockets and Texans fail

Composite photo by Jack Brame

Astros World Series photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Knowing when to give a contract extension is a skill, just like running the front office of a professional sports franchise is an art form. It takes a special set of characteristics to be able to balance finances, evaluate talent, execute contracts and manage people and personalities on a day-to-day basis. It is with that in mind that I can't help but shake my head in disappointment and disbelief when I look at the landscape of Houston sports and the three major sports teams that operate in our fair city. From ownership to the team operations side of the equation, the Astros are the saving grace for Houstonians as they continue to press all the right buttons, pull all the right strings and compete for a championship year after year. The Rockets and the Texans are a different story and the way they have gone about their business lately, to quote Vince Lombardi, has a lot of people wondering what the hell is going on around here?

Astros Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Thank goodness for the Astros! Owner Jim Crane has perfected the balance between letting his decision makers do their jobs and make the moves and trades and deals necessary to create a championship caliber club while knowing when to get personally involved in situations where his support, financial backing, and commitment were the difference between success and possible long term failure. He dug deep to trade for and then extend Justin Verlander. Without that one trade, at the last minute, this city may still be searching for its first World Series title. He committed the money and the contracts to lock up George Springer and Alex Bregman early when most owners would have let those players perform on bargain contracts until he absolutely had to pay them. He locked up Jose Altuve in a similar fashion and has never let finances get in the way of an opportunity to better his ball club. He promoted and extended Jeff Luhnow and key members of his staff that orchestrated the moves, drafts, and signings that have led to his organization being poised to compete for a championship this year and for years to come. There is harmony and communication throughout the process between ownership, management, the coaching staff, and the roster on a daily basis that has led to move after move that bettered the team and protected the clubhouse. From the savvy acquisition of Ryan Pressly to the controversial move to bring in Roberto Osuna. There was a lot that could have gone wrong, but because of the people involved, there has been so much that continues to go right.

Bill O'Brien, Denver Broncos vs. Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

To try and make sense of what is going on with the Texans these days you would need to get into the head of the man seemingly in control of everything the franchise does, head coach Bill O'Brien. A man who went from running the football team to somehow overseeing everything the organization does from a personnel and football perspective. A guy that was rightfully on the hot seat a little over a year ago after several mediocre seasons that all ended in disappointment.

Somehow and inexplicably, he was given a multi-year extension by the team instead of letting him play out the remainder of his contract as he tried to prove he was worthy of continuing on with the franchise. Bob McNair gave him that job security just as easily as he gave him his first NFL head coaching contract when he hired him hired to work with GM Rick Smith and create a culture similar to the one he helped develop in New England with the Patriots. Fans sat back and watched as the so-called "Quarterback Whisperer" brought in re-tread after re-tread to be the next signal caller for the squad, including several that used to play for him with the Pats. The one common thread they all shared was that they all failed miserably and quite noticeably.

Bill blamed Smith and Smith paid the price for it as he was reassigned and eventually stripped of his GM title and decision making power. O'Brien would not face any scrutiny. Instead, he would be empowered to lead the process of hiring Smith's replacement. That would lead to the hiring of one of his former colleagues, Brian Gaine. Gaine had worked with the Texans and O'Brien in the past and was someone that head coach raved about as he was introduced to the fans and the media. It was a fresh start and a new beginning in many ways for the franchise and the two men trusted to lead it into the future. The fairy tale scenario wouldn't last long as the team once again suffered another crushing home playoff loss after an up and down regular season. This offseason Gaine was criticized for his inability to land a top tier free agent and for failing to move up in the draft while he selected a player many thought would have been available later on. Last week, to the surprise of just about everyone, Gaine was fired less than two years into a five-year deal. Now O'Brien is once again in the middle of another search to find a GM that he is compatible with while the fan base and city shake their collective heads and wonder how this man that has been average at best as a head coach, not only still has his job, but is in charge of just about everyone else's employment as he runs the operation his way. You can't help but think he's actually running the organization into the ground as he continues to hire more ex-Patriots staffers, including the person he hires to be the next GM. They may get the title but Billy somehow has all the power.

Daryl Morey Rockets.com

Unlike the Texans, the Rockets have been really good the last several years, including the last two seasons where they were arguably the second-best team in the NBA, falling to their nemesis the Golden State Warriors. Along the way, they set the franchise record for wins in the regular season and James Harden was the league's Most Valuable Player. Unlike Bill O'Brien, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni and his high powered offense set the world on fire by scorching the nets on a nightly basis, scoring seemingly at will, while setting records for 3-point shooting and made triples in a game and a season. Also unlike O'Brien, D'Antoni has been unable to get an extension that he has seemingly earned and instead has been the main focus of scrutiny and blame for what went wrong and is wrong with the team.

New Owner Tilman Fertitta is playing hardball with his tough talk after the tough loss to the Warriors that ended their season and for his handling of the negotiations with his head coach. GM Daryl Morey fired almost all of the teams assistant coaches, video department and player development staff, further creating turmoil for a team that should be looking to add talent this offseason instead of dismissing it.

On the subject of Morey, how is he not the recipient of more of the blame for the franchise's postseason failures? Unlike Rick Smith and Brian Gaine, Morey received a multi-year extension this year even though he publicly took the blame for this year's disjointed roster and lack of depth.

After all he was the one that brought in James Ennis and Michael Carter Williams to replace Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, just as he was the one that signed Clint Capela to a huge deal when he seemingly had no other teams bidding for his services. He also was the man who shook hands and agreed to the massive Chris Paul contract that will handcuff and potentially strangle the franchise financially for the next three years. The team has $95 million dollars wrapped up in four players for next season, putting them way over the salary cap and limiting what they can do to upgrade and improve their roster and Morey is the man who made those deals. Sure, James Harden deserves his contract and has earned every penny, but Paul, Capella, and Eric Gordon are not going to win a title without acquiring more help to fill out the roster. Last season Morey lucked out when Kenneth Faried and Austin Rivers chose Houston after being bought out, even though he received all the credit for orchestrating their arrival in Houston.

If fans have to hope the buyout market is their savior next season it may be hard to keep hope alive. Morey is going to have to earn his money this offseason while the rest of the league looks on at a franchise that seems to be at a crossroads, if not in disarray. Free agent players are watching with keen interest as there is uncertainty with the coach, the staff, the roster and maybe most importantly, the two best players.

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Houston needs a win to advance

ALWC Game 2 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It took all nine innings, but the Astros rallied late and took Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and are in the driver's seat in this best-of-three series. They'll return to Target Field, home of the Twins, on Wednesday afternoon to try and get the win and advance to the ALDS. Here's what you need to know about Game 2:

Game Facts

When: Wednesday, 12:08 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ESPN 2

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Jose Urquidy+ vs. José Berríos.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Astros 4, Twins 1 Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Urquidy+ vs. Berríos
Game 3* Thu 10/1, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis McCullers Jr.+ vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Houston's offense has to get going earlier

The Twins' error in the ninth inning in Game 1 was a gift for the Astros that they were able to take advantage of and score the winning runs. It's unlikely to be handed another chance like that in the postseason, so in Game 2, it's paramount that Houston creates their own opportunities at the plate.

The good news is, every batter in the lineup was able to reach base in the first game, either by hit or walk. However, they would go 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine on base during the game. Because they can't expect to have two pitchers to combine for a one-run game on Wednesday, they will have to carry over the momentum from the end of Game 1 into Game 2 to build a lead their bullpen can carry.

Trust your arms to navigate through

Whether it's Jose Urquidy, who is the likely candidate, or anyone else who ends up starting Wednesday's game, the Astros have to be prepared to have a longer stretch of innings filled by their bullpen. Despite his struggles to end the regular season, Greinke did well only to allow one run to the Twins over his four innings in Game 1.

You should expect a similar outcome in Game 2, where hopefully your starter can hold the Twins at bay for as long as they can before needing to make the change to relievers. It will be interesting to see how Dusty Baker plays that situation, mostly dependent on the score at the time, as he could have someone like Cristian Javier come in for multiple innings. The only thing the Astros shouldn't do is fire too many of their bullets and put their chances in a potential Game 3 at risk.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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