ASTROS REPORT

Astros have disappointing week against tough opponents, lose AL West lead

Gerrit Cole picked up another win. Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had their toughest matchups yet this week, going up against the other two best teams in the American League; the Yankees and Red Sox. I said last week that if they could come out of this week with a winning record, it would be a sign that they are still the team to beat in the AL. Did they do it? 

Monday, May 28th: 34-20 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 33-16 Yankees (Domingo German)

Houston started the week with a Memorial Day matchup against the Yankees in the Bronx. The difference-maker in the game came early, a three-run homer by J.D. Davis who was called up last week after Derek Fisher landed on the DL. Evan Gattis extended the lead to 4-0 in the top of the fourth with an RBI single. Verlander had another terrific game going, though did take a hit to his ERA by allowing a solo home run to Greg Bird to leadoff the bottom of the seventh. Verlander would get two outs into the seventh before his day was over, bringing in Will Harris who finished the inning. Jose Altuve had a homer of his own in the top of the eighth, making it 5-1, a score that Chris Devenski and Ken Giles were able to hold with an inning each of work from the bullpen, securing the win.
Final Score: Astros 5, Yankees 1

Tuesday, May 29th: 35-20 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 33-17 Yankees (CC Sabathia)

The Yankees were able to put up much more offense on Tuesday, starting in the bottom of the first inning with a solo home run by Brett Gardner off of Charlie Morton to take a quick 1-0 lead. Evan Gattis answered right back for the Astros, hitting a solo homer of his own in the top of the second to tie the game up at one apiece. The back-and-forth continued over the next few innings, with the Yankees going up 2-1 in the bottom of the second before Houston got a two-RBI double from Marwin Gonzalez in the top of the fourth to regain the lead at 3-2. They extended that to 5-2 in the top of the fifth with RBIs from Yuli Gurriel and Gattis, his second of the day. Aaron Judge made his presence known with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth, trimming the lead to 5-3, but the Yankees would be unable to get any closer... until the ninth inning. Chris Devenski came on for the ninth with a 5-3 lead but saw that lead disappear after Gardner's second home run of the game, this time for two runs to tie the game. The game went to extras, where Brad Peacock was the next bullpen pitcher to fall victim to the Yankees offense, allowing the walk-off run on an RBI single by Gleyber Torres.
Final Score (10 innings): Astros 5, Yankees 6

Wednesday, May 30th: 35-21 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 34-17 Yankees (Luis Severino)

Wednesday night's game was expected to be a strong pitching duel, with Dallas Keuchel who has been generally strong at Yankees stadium going against Luis Severino. Keuchel instead had a rough night, starting in the bottom of the first when New York took a 1-0 lead on a sac fly by Giancarlo Stanton. Keuchel did well to only allow one run in the rough inning and rebounded well over the next few innings. Max Stassi was the first Astro to finally get a hold of a pitch from Severino, hitting a two-run homer to give Houston a 2-1 lead. Keuchel got into trouble again in the bottom of the fifth, and this time gave up two runs, allowing the Yankees to go back in front 3-2. He would allow one more run before his night was done in the bottom of the sixth before Collin McHugh relieved him and allowed New York's fifth run of the night. Stassi got his third RBI of the night on a double in the top of the ninth to try and start a comeback against closer Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman would stop Houston there and lock up the series win for New York.
Final Score: Astros 3, Yankees 5

Thursday, May 31st: 39-17 Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz) vs. 35-22 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

Houston bounced back from the rough series in New York with a strong showing at home on Thursday night to open the series with Boston. Carlos Correa set the tone early with a two-run home run for a quick 2-0 lead, though Boston did answer back with two runs of their own in the top of the third off of Lance McCullers. McCullers, other than the rough third inning, had a strong night against the strong Red Sox, allowing just those two runs on four hits and finishing six innings. He left with a 4-2 lead after Tony Kemp hustled out an RBI infield single in the bottom of the fourth, followed by an RBI bunt by Jake Marisnick. The 4-2 score held with Will Harris getting five strong outs between the seventh and eighth inning, Hector Rondon finishing the eighth, then Ken Giles notching another save.
Final Score: Red Sox 2, Astros 4

Friday, June 1st: 39-18 Red Sox (Chris Sale) vs. 36-22 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Friday night was set up to be yet another strong pitching match in the week with Chris Sale for Boston facing off against Gerrit Cole for Houston. Instead, the teams went back and forth in the early innings, combining for seven runs off the two strong starters. Houston struck first with George Springer scoring on a wild pitch followed by an RBI infield single by Yuli Gurriel, getting a quick 2-0 lead. The Red Sox got a run back in the top of the second, but Springer and Gurriel accounted for two more runs in the bottom of the third with the former hitting a solo home run and the latter getting his second RBI single of the game. Cole looked to be rattled in the top of the fourth, giving up back-to-back solo home runs to lead off the inning and bring Boston within one run, but bounced back and finished seven innings without allowing any more runs. Houston added three insurance runs after a two-run home run from Carlos Correa and a solo homer from Evan Gattis in the bottom of the eighth, but they would prove unneeded with Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock each pitching an inning to close out the win.
Final Score: Red Sox 3, Astros 7

Saturday, June 2nd: 39-19 Red Sox (David Price) vs. 37-22 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Boston took their first lead of the series in the top of the first Saturday night, getting an RBI from J.D. Martinez off of his former Tiger teammate Justin Verlander to make it 1-0. Marwin Gonzalez tied the game 1-1 with an RBI triple in the bottom of the second before making an amazing leaping catch at the scoreboard wall in left field in the top of the third. Unfortunately, his impact with the wall on the play resulted in him leaving the game. Alex Bregman gave Houston the lead with a two-run shot to the Crawford Boxes in the bottom of the third, making it 3-1 Astros. Verlander looked to be settled in after the earned run in the first, but Martinez struck again in the top of the sixth with another RBI single to make it a 3-2 game. With Verlander done after six innings, Will Harris came in and after getting the first two outs gave up two home runs, allowing the Red Sox to go up 5-3. Jose Altuve got himself in position to help the Astros in the bottom of the eighth, working a one-out walk before stealing second and third, then scoring on an RBI single from Yuli Gurriel, making it 5-4. After pitching a shutout eighth, Tony Sipp came back out for the ninth and got two more outs before being pulled in favor of Joe Smith who got the final out of the top of the ninth. Boston's closer Craig Kimbrel was out in the bottom of the ninth and retired the Astros in order to get the save for the Red Sox.
Final Score: Red Sox 5, Astros 4

Sunday, June 3rd: 40-19 Red Sox (Rick Porcello) vs. 37-23 Astros (Charlie Morton)

In the primetime matchup on Sunday night, the Red Sox got the best of Charlie Morton early with a two-run homer in the top of the first to go up 2-0. George Springer answered back with a leadoff dinger off of Rick Porcello to bring Houston back within 1 in the bottom of the inning. Both pitchers settled in after that, holding the 2-1 score until the top of the fifth when Andrew Benintendi launched a no-doubter to the upper deck in right field to extend Boston’s lead to 3-1. Morton struggled in the sixth, allowing three more runs before getting removed from the game, leaving with a 6-1 deficit. The Astros finally got some offense against Porcello in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases before an Alex Bregman single scored two runs to make it 6-3, ending Porcello’s night. Boston's bullpen held, keeping the Astros to their three runs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense added insurance runs off of Collin McHugh in the eighth and Ken Giles who was brought in to get some work in the ninth. 
Final Score: Red Sox 9, Astros 3

Summary

With the loss on Sunday night, not only did the Astros secure a losing record on the week at 3-4, they also let the Mariners take over in first place of the AL West. Granted, this week had two very tough matchups for Houston, but they showed in their wins that they can go out on any night and get it done, while in a couple of losses, they seemed unable to find their peak performance to get over the hump or keep the other team from doing so. The good news is Houston has a very favorable schedule coming up to take them to the All-Star break so they could break out, catch some heavy momentum, and go into the break on a high note and get re-energized for the playoff push. The starting rotation looked more human this week with all of the starters having some rough patches even in the wins, and the offense didn't really look too dominant either. Much of this is a product of who they were facing, but it still results in a skeptical look at what this team's future holds if they can't smooth things out before the end of the year. 

MVP of the Week - Evan Gattis

How in the world does a guy that is currently sitting with a .224 average make MVP of the week? Well, partly because no one really had a standout week, and Evan Gattis has been on a tear recently. Gattis had 5 RBIs this week, and if you look at his last ten games, has 11. He hasn't been fantastic or even totally reliable at the plate, but he came through in some big ways over the last week or so, and therefore earns a little appreciation from me.

This week

  • Tue-Wed: (37-22) Mariners @ (37-24) Astros
  • Thu-Sun (37-24) Astros @ (25-37) Rangers

The Astros have another Monday off day then will welcome the Mariners for two games in Houston which will likely decide who goes into the weekend with the AL West lead. Then, the Astros will travel up I-45 to face the struggling Rangers for four games in Arlington. The Astros should make easy work of these teams and breeze through a 4-2 or better week against these AL West foes. 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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