Astros in command position to have home-field advantage in ALDS

Astros face the lowly Diamondbacks next. Composite image by Jack Brame.

If the Texans reeeeally want to open some eyes, opportunity knocks for them Sunday in Cleveland. They had a solid and easy opening win over the Jaguars, but Jacksonville is pitiful. The Browns are AFC contenders coming off an 11-5 2020 season, and in their opener led the Chiefs in Kansas City 22-10 before seeing the game slip from their grasp (or having Pat Mahomes rip it from that grasp). The Browns are favored by 12 and a half, making the Texans the biggest underdog in the NFL this week. I expect the Texans to lose along the lines of 27-13, but merely note that the only way to pull off a huge upset is to be a huge underdog.

The rest of the AFC South fell on its face week one. The Titans (at Seattle), Colts (home vs. the Rams), and Jaguars (home vs. the Broncos) are all underdogs this week. If the Texans are 2-0 while everyone else in the division is 0-2…

Astros take on the D'Backs

Off taking three out of four in Arlington from the awful Rangers the Astros and the White Sox losing two straight at home to the Angels, the Astros are in command position to at minimum have home-field advantage in their American League Division Series. They lead the Chisox by three games and have the tiebreaker sewn up. The Astros trail the Rays by four games for the best record in AL. This weekend at Minute Maid Park the Astros get the even worse than the Rangers Arizona Diamondbacks. The D'Backs are 47-99. With a 4-12 finishing kick they can match their franchise record for losses, put up in 2004. The great Randy Johnson went 16-14 that season for a team that went 51-111. The Big Unit was clearly the best pitcher in the National League, but lost out on the Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens who won his seventh. The Rocket went 18-4 for the Astros and was incredible, but clearly not as good as Johnson was. Had Johnson won the Cy he would have six as would Clemens. But that's ok, because Roger got jobbed out of a Cy Young he absolutely deserved in 1990, another he probably deserved in 1992, and a third for which he had a strong case with the Astros in 2005. At 43 years old in mid-August of '05 Clemens had an earned run average of 1.32 before "fading" to a league leading 1.87 finish. Whatever one believes of went into Clemens's late career brilliance, he was incredible to watch.

Turn back the clock

As the Astros close in on their fifth straight postseason appearance, next week takes us to the 35th anniversary of the 1986 Astros securing their playoff spot. September 23, 24, and 25 of 1986 has to rank at or near the top of the most fun regular season three day stretches in franchise history.

On the 23rd Jim Deshaies threw a two hit shutout as the Astros shutout the Dodgers 4-0. That was the game in which Deshaies set a Major League record by striking out the first eight opposition batters (the Marlins' Pablo Lopez broke the record this year by striking out the first nine Braves he faced July 11). Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was so flustered he pinch hit for his pitcher in the third inning with two out and nobody on in a 2-0 game. Pinch-hitter Larry See popped to second.

The next night Nolan Ryan fired eight innings of one hit ball (reliever Charlie Kerfeld gave up a hit in the ninth) as the Astros blanked the Giants 6-0.

The following afternoon Mike Scott threw his National League West Division clinching no-hitter in the Astros 2-0 win over the Giants.

Those Astros would lose an epic National League Championship Series to the New York Mets. ESPN's latest 30 for 30 debuted this week, a four-parter about the '86 Mets called "Once Upon A Time In Queens." It's phenomenal, with a good chunk of part three about the Mets-Astros LCS. Worth a watch, whether as an Astro fan of that time wanting to work up some fresh bile for the Mets of that time, or as a period piece.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Salute to Sal. Royals' catcher Salvador Perez hit his 45th home run of the season Thursday, tying Johnny Bench's single season homer record for a player who is primarily a catcher. Bench did it as part of a vaunted Cincinnati lineup that became known as the Big Red Machine. Perez's Kansas City team is 12th among 15 American League teams in runs scored, dead last in the AL in homers.

2. So John Wall and the Rockets evidently agree that his playing for them this season is of no interest. Finding a trade sucker (errrr, partner) to take the two seasons nearly 92 million guaranteed dollars left on Wall's deal without the Rockets having to trade away draft picks and/or take back other absurd contracts? Good luck.

3. Greatest Browns: Bronze-Bad, Bad Leroy Silver-Otto Graham Gold-Jim

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With the end of the regular season in sight, the Houston Astros host the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, coming off a huge walk-off 2-1 win against the Orioles.

Two players from the finale against Baltimore really stood out for the 'Stros. Jeremy Pena, who had a clutch double late in the game, and Cristian Javier.

Javier struck out 11 batters over 5 innings surrendering only one run, which was exactly what the Astros needed in possibly the most important game of the regular season.

Both Pena and Javier were critical pieces to the Astros title in 2022, and it looks like they're rounding into form at just the right time.

Javier's struggles have caused many to question who would be the team's third starter in the postseason, behind Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander. Let's put this to bed right now, it's Javier.

This should be everything you need to know. Let's start with Hunter Brown. Brown has given up 5 earned runs or more in 4 of his last 7 starts.

How about JP France? France has surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 3 of his last 5 games.

However, Cristian Javier hasn't allowed 5 or more runs in a start since July 3. Javier may only give you 5 innings, but that's actually pretty common for starters in the playoffs. Teams typically remove their starters before the third time through the order.

Prime Time Pena

While the power hasn't been there for Pena this year, he is swinging the bat much better of late. Over his last 30 games, he's hitting .325 while slugging .453. Pena may only have 10 bombs on the year, but he's getting on base and hitting plenty of doubles.

If these two can contribute at a similar level to last postseason, the sky is the limit for the 2023 Astros.

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