Charlie Pallilo

Astros-Indians series will have plenty of intrigue

Will Carlos Correa wake up? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Points to be mindful of during the Astros-Indians American League Division Series…

Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch really couldn’t make any bad decisions with his bullpen roster selections: Lance McCullers/Will Harris/Josh James in, Hector Rondon/Brad Peacock/Joe Smith. McCullers’s pure talent and competitive fire got him his spot. Harris had a September 0.00 ERA, albeit covering just seven innings. James is a multi-inning option if a longer relief stint is needed. Rondon was bad in four out of five outings in a late season stretch. Lefthanded hitters put up huge numbers vs. Peacock this year and the Indians top three hitters are switch/lefty/switch. A little surprised Smith was left off but a bad final week of the season did him in. As always it will come down to performance and results.

These two teams have the AL pitchers who finished second through eighth in ERA among qualifiers. That’s amazing. Only AL Cy Young favorite Blake Snell of Tampa Bay was better.

The Indians led the American League in stolen bases this season with 135. As point of reference, the Astros stole 71. You never know how a given game or series will play out but given the caliber of starting pitchers on both teams, runs could be difficult to come by even for two potent offenses. The Indians will likely be aggressive when Brian McCann is behind the plate. Martin Maldonado is vastly better against the running game, but with the Indians using all righthanded starting pitchers we’ll have to see whether Hinch starts him or prefers to use Maldonado as a late inning defensive replacement or if McCann is lifted for a pinch hitter or pinch runner. Of course, you can’t steal second if you don’t figure out a way to reach first.

With the Indians adding Josh Donaldson their defense changes with Donaldson at third base, Jose Ramirez moving from third to second, and Jason Kipnis from second to centerfield. Kipnis is not a good center fielder. Neither Michael Brantley nor Melky Cabrera is confused with Gold Glove winning defense in the corner spots. The Astros love to run the bases aggressively, sometimes overly so. In this series they should be aggressive but mindful of that line between aggressive and dopey.

Three of the Tribe’s best four relief pitchers are lefties. The Astros overall hit lefties decidedly better than they did righties this season. That is why the single biggest Indian x-factor going in is how Terry Francona uses usual starter Trevor Bauer as a bullpen weapon.

Does either sleeping giant awaken? Carlos Correa hit a feeble .180 in 37 games played after his return from the disabled list. Indians stud Jose Ramirez finished with second tier MVP candidate numbers, but over his last 40 games Ramirez hit a feebler .166.

No disrespect

It certainly would have been better for more people wanting to attend or watch Game 1 for the Astros to have gotten the 3:15 start which went to the Brewers and Rockies. But the Astros not getting a prime time slot was not disrespect toward the reigning champs. It’s a business. Pure and simple, Red Sox-Yankees draws a larger audience than Astros-Indians so Sox-Yanks was getting the slot with the greater audience potential. Los Angeles is the only Friday site west of the central time zone so obviously Dodgers-Braves was going in the later evening slot.

Last call for Texans

The Texans better beat the Cowboys Sunday night or at 1-4 they become generally irrelevant in this city, certainly for as long as the Astros are in the postseason. Plus the Rockets tip off their regular season in less than two weeks.

J.J. Watt has been tremendous two games in a row, racking up five sacks and three forced fumbles. In fairly assessing his performance it has to be noted Watt primarily destroyed backup right tackles against the Giants and Colts. Cowboys RT La’el Collins is no All-Pro but should provide a better test of where Watt again sits on the scale of dominance.

Melo out, folks

I could almost hear the grousing of some fans when in his first two possessions in a Rockets’ uniform Carmelo Anthony first got completely lost defensively with his man hitting a wide open three point shot, then right back the other end the first time he touched the ball Melo bricked a three. Patience people! Anthony made a generally positive first impression. And who couldn’t think “what if?” after watching Chris Paul on two healthy hamstrings look absolutely fantastic. Topping last season’s 65 wins is an extremely ambitious goal, but the Rockets are going to be great. We have six months of excellence about to get going. If you are a Rockets’ fan don’t sweat the Warriors until May/June.

Buzzer Beaters

1. ARMY took Oklahoma to OT a couple of weeks ago. Opportunity knocks for the Longhorns to vault themselves to Big 12 regular season favorites.  2. The NHL season is underway. Just letting you know. 3. Best seasons: Bronze-summer Silver-spring Gold-fall.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

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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