HOUSTON CAN AVOID WARRIORS COMPARRISONS AND VALIDATE REGULAR SEASON BY WINNING IT ALL

Astros need to finish what they started

photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros have had one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history. They set the franchise record for most wins with 107, as well as leading the league in several offensive marks including batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage while striking out less than every other team. They also led all of baseball in fielding percentage while putting together one of the most dominant pitching staffs the game has seen in quite some time.

Led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros struck out more hitters than any other team in the game, issued the fewest walks, had the best WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings and second-best ERA. Both power pitchers eclipsed the 300 strikeout mark for the season as they finished the campaign in a dead heat for the Cy Young Award. It was a regular season for the ages and one that Houstonians won't soon forget, but in order for this year's team to be immortalized in baseball history, there is still work to be done. You see, when it comes to sports history and team sports, in particular, it doesn't mean a thing if you don't win that ring.

Steph Curry vs. James Harden. Getty Images.

The Astros need not look any farther than the Rockets most recent rival, the Golden State Warriors to find the perfect example of a historically great regular season team that lost luster and shine by not winning the championship at the end of the year. The 2016 Warriors set the all-time NBA record for regular-season wins with a 73-9 record. They steamrolled the rest of basketball and had everyone talking about the greatest team ever assembled. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to etching their name in stone as the greatest team ever, they lost in the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and while the "king" took their crown, the Cavs tarnished their place in history.

Now, instead of praising their incredible season and talking about being one of the greatest teams ever, they talk about the asterisk next to their record that symbolizes their inability to validate that accomplishment with a title. For that reason alone, there are many that think the 1996 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 is the greatest team ever. Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, that team did what the Warriors couldn't do and won it all to seal the deal and forever memorialize how great that team was.

Astros celebration mlb.com/Astros

I think you get my point and see where I am going here. I want this Astros team to win their second championship in the last three years and I want them to bring another title to H-town. I want them to be the first team in MLB history to have the Cy Young award winner, the MVP and the A.L. Rookie of the year all come from the same squad and to have that team win the World Series as well, that would be the icing on the cake.

I want all of those things because I want this team to be remembered, not just by Astros fans, but by baseball fans for years to come. This has been a storybook season for the Astros and their fans, all we need now is the perfect ending to solidify their place in history.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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