INDIVIDUAL AWARDS ARE GREAT BUT THE MAIN GOAL SHOULD ALWAYS BE A WORLD SERIES TITLE

Astros: Keep your eyes on the prize

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The Astros are one of the best teams in baseball and have one of the most explosive and complete rosters in the game. With a team that is loaded with that much talent comes a great deal of hype, media exposure and consideration for postseason awards. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are the top two candidates for the American League Cy Young Award, Alex Bregman is currently ranked in the top three for A.L. MVP and Yordan Alvarez is taking baseball by storm as the emerging favorite for Rookie of the Year. All you have to do is log on to your favorite social media account when any one of those guys has an outstanding performance to read the compliments, praise, and proclamations of the award already being won by their favorite Astro of the hour. Those Tweets and messages are usually followed up with stats and historical references to back up their predictions and some even go as far as to slam the other candidates being mentioned in conversations surrounding the major awards for the American League. As good as these guys are playing and as proud as you feel to hear your hometown heroes names being bantered about in regard to individual success, it's important for the team and the fans to keep it all in perspective and remember the most important award is the World Series trophy and banner at the end of the season.

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Houston is a city that seems overly focused on seeing their favorite hometown hero in any one of the three major sports in the city, get the recognition, credit and major awards they feel the players so richly deserves. James Harden is in the NBA MVP discussion seemingly every year and when he doesn't win it, there is a backlash, disappointment, and disgust across "Red Nation." The Rockets organization has a major marketing campaign and the media blitz that is focused on lobbying for the Beard to get the hardware annually and GM Daryl Morey is like a paid political advisor the way he campaigns for his guy and bashes the other guys in the running. That's not a good look and can backfire when you eventually trade for one of the guys you have downplayed in the past. (Westbrook) The critics and media that follow the team on a consistent basis have wondered out loud about the over the top passion in regard to Harden and the MVP and if it means more and gets more attention than the team's attempts to win another title? Even the players get caught up in the hype and are asked about it far more frequently than they would like, as the preference for them is always centered on winning the next game on the schedule and doing whatever it takes to achieve the ultimate in team success. The Texans aren't as bad when it comes to JJ Watt, but the fans have had a similar passion when he has been in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP. The Astros have seemingly stayed out of the campaigning for their players up for postseason awards and have let the cards fall where they may in terms of the media and the voting process. Jose Altuve still took home the top individual award for a position player two years ago, but they also won their first championship as a team and organization that same season. The point being, it's more than OK to push for your favorite Houston player to get individual accolades and awards, just don't let that passion supersede your desire to see your favorite team win the ultimate prize at the end of the playoffs.

The latest example of "award-mania" is centered around Yordan Alvarez and his meteoric rise heard and seen around MLB ever since he was called up by the Astros some 50 games ago. The combination of huge power surges, long, majestic home runs and a keen eye at the plate that has his average hovering around .350 has all of H-town buzzing. Astros fans all over the country are singing his praises and writing their local beat writer to demand that "Air Yordan" get consideration for Rookie of the Year as they compare his success to the greats of the game like Ted Williams and Albert Pujols. The numbers speak for themselves as he has been a huge shot in the arm to the Houston offense while proving he belongs in the big leagues, playing on a daily basis. The fans jumped on the bandwagon almost immediately after following his rising stock as he dominated pitchers throughout his every stop in the minor leagues. I love the passion and the support everyone is giving the big DH as he has become another in a long line of Astros players that the fans love and the organization and all of MLB appreciates. Just a word of caution not to lose your collective mind if he doesn't get the trophy at the end of the season and gets passed over for another player that has been in the show for the entire year. As great as it would be to see the kid take home the top award given to a first-year player, it's ten times more important to see how valuable he has become to his team and the effect he has had on Houston's success and their chances of winning their 2nd title in the last 3 years. Alvarez has given the Astros a huge boost in the middle of their batting order and his success allowed GM Jeff Luhnow the flexibility to pool all of his resources towards acquiring a front line starting pitcher like Zack Grienke and a few other arms to bolster the pitching staff. Yordan's emergence allowed Luhnow and his staff to stockpile all their resources and prospects and use them on arms instead of trying to spread them out to give the club a chance to swing a deal for an extra bat as well as a big-time arm or two. So keep cheering for your favorite players to take home every trophy and every postseason award, just don't let it consume you to the point that you lose sight of what should still be and always be the number one priority, which is another World Series title.

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The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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