Houston-Oakland Preview

Astros head to Oakland for a showdown with 1st place A's

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Fri. Aug 7: Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) vs. Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93)

Sat. Aug 8: Framber Valdez (0-1, 2.53) vs. Frankie Montas (1-1, 2.25)

Sun. Aug 9: Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42) vs. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 2.31)

STORYLINES

  • Who reigns supreme in the AL West? The Astros have been the clear and dominant power in the AL West for three seasons, with the Athletics being a consistent second fiddle. Well, 20% of the season is gone, and the A's have a 2.5 game lead on Houston. A bad series for Houston will give them quite a hole to dig out of.
  • Is George Springer okay? Springer left the game against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night with a wrist injury. Springer was starting to find himself at the plate, so it would be unfortunate if he misses time due to injury and has to find his timing again.
  • Who is Ryan Pressly? Ryan Pressly has only been used twice, only faced nine hitters, allowed five hits to those nine hitters, walked two others, and only recorded two outs. He was responsible for the loss on Thursday night, failing to record an out in his first save opportunity of the year. With Roberto Osuna on the shelf, the Astros need vintage Pressly, not this Pressly.
  • A new ace in town? Athletics phenom Jesus Luzardo made his starting pitching debut earlier this week, twirling five innings of scoreless baseball against the Texas Rangers. If Luzardo, the first Peruvian-born big leaguer in MLB history, is the pitcher that experts think he is, then Oakland might have the best pitching staff in baseball.

PREDICTIONS

The Athletics represent another formidable opponent for the Astros, as they return to divisional play. All three pitching matchups are even, as Greinke looks to build on his second start versus the reliable Chris Bassitt, Valdez looks to prove he's a long term rotation option versus the electric Frankie Montas, and two up-and-coming arms square off on Sunday. Ultimately, it will be up to which offense can wreak more havoc. Right now, that offense is Oakland. The A's will take two of three.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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