WADE MILEY HAS HAD SEVERAL BAD OUTINGS IN A ROW, GIVING EVERYONE CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Astros need to figure out fourth starter for playoffs

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For most of the year Wade Miley has been just what the doctor ordered in replacing Dallas Kuechel in the starting rotation and doing so with great numbers and results. Unfortunately everything took a turn for the worse when Miley and the Astros entered the month of September. Two straight home starts had Miley giving up 7 runs in the first inning of both games and leaving before he could toe the rubber for inning number 2. On the road the results were slightly better, but not enough to keep observers from wondering if there was a real problem brewing for the player and the team as they head to the post season? Miley has an ERA of 22.06 in September and has seen his overall ERA go up almost a full point in the last three weeks. In his most recent start he gave up 4 earned runs on 4 hits in one inning of work before being removed by Manager AJ Hinch. As good as Miley was for most of the season, his performance over the final month of the season has everyone involved searching for answers and wondering what they should do to avoid any similar issues that could severely hinder their run for a second World Series title in the last three years. As much as you like Miley and want to believe he can figure it out and get right before the A.L. Divisional Series gets under way early next month, time is running out and a tough decision may have to be made. If Miley doesn't get the ball for Game 4 of a playoff series, who could step up and take over the role while holding down the fort?

If this was last year, the answer would be easy as Brad Peacock has proven himself to be an above average weapon for this team whether it be out of the bullpen or in a starting role. He has pitched in the playoffs before and knows what it takes to pitch on the biggest stage, when the lights are at their brightest. That was then, this is now and the here and now says Peacock has struggled with injuries all season long with multiple stints on the IL, and after recently returning from his latest appearance on the injury report there doesn't seem to be enough time to get him "stretched out" and prepared with the endurance and arm strength required of a major league starting pitcher. Expect to see him on the playoff roster and ready for long and short relief out of the pen, but probably not as a starter filling in for Miley.

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Another former starter experiencing the same struggles and appearances on the injured list as Peacock is Colin McHugh. Together the two right-handers are living a parallel universe that has seen them both go from effective and trusted arms in the bullpen and rotation to a two-man MASH unit that can't be counted on based on health concerns alone. McHugh also has seen extended time on the IL and has yet to return to the active roster for the final few weeks of the season. The simple truth is, there is too much risk involved to roll the dice and hope for the potential rewards. As good as McHugh has been and for as much trust as AJ Hinch has built up in his ability to step up and step in wherever needed, he just doesn't seem like he is going to be healthy enough to be counted on for the playoffs. The bigger hope is that he can get healthy and return as a short inning reliever with valuable postseason experience as the team goes deeper into the playoffs.

The team has used the regular season to interview and audition several of their young and talented pitching prospects hoping that at least one would seize the opportunity and capture a spot in the rotation. Framber Valdez was given every chance to succeed but his lack of control and propensity to walk more hitters than he retires, has forced the club to move on for the rest of this season. Josh James experienced a similar fate after he was sidelined early in the year and again recently by injuries, then when he returned to the team he seemingly lost his ability to throw strikes while suddenly becoming a candidate to give up a long ball every time he took the mound. James still may make the playoff roster as a power arm in the pen, but for now it looks like his days as a starter are over. Jose Urquidy has looked good in his last three appearances but is on an innings limit due to his Tommy John surgery of a few years ago. He is fast approaching the magic number for innings pitched based on the organizational restrictions when you combine his major league and minor league totals and Hinch has said that he is not willing to push those boundaries as he has Urquidy's career in his hands. With that said and combined with his roller coaster season of results, the team isn't likely to give him a shot as a postseason starter.

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

All of that leaves the team with very few options and a limited number of potential solutions as they power towards the postseason. The team could go with a three man rotation and force their best starters into pitching on short rest well before they would otherwise consider such a scenario, or they consider going to an "opener" and then follow up whoever gets the start with a bullpen game by committee. Neither situation seems ideal, especially if they are in command and leading the series but the later would seem to be the best option to preserve the overall state of the rotation. If they go that route, look for Peacock or possibly James to get the call first, followed by anyone not named Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly or Will Harris. The bullpen started the season as one of the best collections of talent in all of baseball and it looks like they will end the year even more valuable if they are called upon and counted on to fill the void left by the inconsistency of Miley. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and how the team elects to handle it. For the sake of Houston and the Astros, let's hope that Miley and pitching coach Brent Strom can figure out what has been going wrong, right the ship, and avoid having to make any rash decisions.

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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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