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Astros need to add a top flight pitcher for another title run

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Through 90 games of the season and at the All Star break, the Houston Astros are 57-33 with a seven and a half game lead in the AL West. They are currently in second place in the AL playoff race behind the New York Yankees. Under most circumstances, one would say this team is in prime position to make another playoff run. Despite all the injuries to key players (Altuve, Correa, Springer), they've been able to maintain their level of play and a stranglehold on the division lead.

Of all the things teams have done from last season up until now, most have tried to improve areas of weakness or shore up strengths. For example, the Yankees added one of this season's top homerun hitters in Edwin Encarnacion to an already strong lineup. The Astros have made minimal moves (Wade Miley signing) or promotion from within (Yordan Alvarez). Both moves have worked out well, but they aren't enough. Here's a few reasons why I think that way:


Forrest Whitley isn't walking through that door

Long rumored to be called up some time in June to give the team an extra year of control, Whitley is the top pitching prospect the organization has, but a "shoulder fatigue" injury has slowed him down. He started throwing off the mound about a month ago. If he hasn't been called up by now, chances are he's not coming up this year. They'd need to give him a few starts to get acclimated to the big league level before knowing if he can be relied upon in the postseason. That can't happen unless he's called up ASAP.

Justin Verlander's home run problem

When your ace has given up a near career high in homeruns before the All Star break, that's a problem. Verlander recently complained about MLB juicing the balls. While that may be the case, Verlander is still on pace for giving up nearly 50 homers this season. Most of them are early on in the game and of the solo variety. But being down early puts you at such a disadvantage, one that can be hard to overcome. Especially when...

Your best hitter isn't hitting very well

Jose Altuve is currently batting 52 points lower than his career .314 average. His OPS down 35 points from a career .816 average. those numbers have risen up in the last few games before the break and were much worse. Maybe he's still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Or maybe he's pressing knowing he should be performing better. Either way, if your best hitter isn't doing his thing, you'll need others to step up, or the pitching staff to cover offensive deficiencies. While Altuve isn't really pulling his weight, the rest of the lineup is trying to pick up his slack. I still feel this lineup can be hit or miss. Just see their slip ups versus the Pirates and Reds midseason.

Jeff Luhnow values prospects

Teams getting rid of top flight big league talent usually want prospects in return. It's understandable since they know the team trading for said talent is trying to win and won't likely part with any big league roster talent in return. Luhnow values prospects like they're air and/or water. I'm sorry, but I'd give up clean air or fresh water for a period of time if it meant I got closer to a life goal.

Do I have faith that this team can make another playoff run? Yes. Is that faith being tested? Hell yes! Do I think they're a World Series threat? I believe so, but the only way to heighten their chances is to add to the pitching staff with a top flight pitcher. Charlie Pallilo named four pitchers they should go after leading up to the hard trade deadline of July 31. While he lists some interesting pitchers, I believe there are others out there that may be had, but the price will be steep. So what price do you place on possibly winning another World Series? Would you be willing to part with a top prospect or two? Or are you willing to stand pat?

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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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