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4 specific ways the Astros are proving the haters wrong in 2021

The Astros have a surplus of young talent. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2021 Astros season has been a bit of a ride so far. The start of the season saw this team being seen as a possible threat to make the ALCS, but were they seriously considered a World Series contender? There were holes on this roster that many thought would prevent them from reaching such lofty heights. To be more specific, it was the outfield depth, bullpen, and starting rotation. Those positions were the ones in which most people looked at with some trepidation going into this season. Fast-forward to 19 games left before the regular season ends, and the Astros are running away with the AL West, and are about four to five games behind the Rays for the overall lead in the AL. This turnaround can be attributed to those three key positions that were called into question when the season started, and what was believed to be a shaky minor league system.

Starting rotation

When you lose a guy like Justin Verlander for the season before it starts, it's a major blow to your starting staff. Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr were expected to be the leaders of the starting rotation. They have been pretty consistent and held things down, but there are other guys who've made positive impacts as well. Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier have all contributed to the success of this staff. Javier has been more of an arm out of the pen lately, but that doesn't diminish what he means to this staff. Valdez, Garcia, and Urquidy have all proven themselves worthy of holding down starting positions in this rotation.

Bullpen

One other area that was a red flag when the season stated was the bullpen. Javier has bounced between the bullpen and rotation, but settled as a long relief guy lately. When they added Phil Maton and Kendall Graveman to the bullpen through trades, it changed the way we see the bullpen altogether. No longer do fans fear a small lead. Instead, they patiently wait for what's to come. Usually, it's another Astros win. Occasionally, there have been some letdowns, but not nearly as often as it was earlier in the season.

Outfield

Once upon a time, Myles Straw was a thing in the outfield. Since then, Jose Siri and Jake Meyers have made names for themselves. Straw was seen as a sacrificial lamb of sorts in the Maton trade. Since Meyers has lived up to the hype, and Siri has played well in limited action, Straw has been a forgotten man. While Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, and Chas McCormick have held it down, the new guys are giving the outfield an infusion of youth.

Farm system

Another thing that has stuck out to me is how some of these guys have been promoted from what was once considered a dwindling cesspool of a minor league system. Hailed as one of MLB's most promising a short time ago, the Astros' minor leagues have been raided to keep their run as a dynasty alive. With a ring in hand and another World Series appearance to show, I consider it worth it. With this team on the verge of prolonging said dynasty, I'm also for whatever keeps it going. Whether it's trading the future for a chance to win now, or getting young guys playing time now who'll be a part of something long term, I'm here for that as well. The minors weren't as devoid of talent as once was thought. General manager James Click isn't a hapless bum scrambling to fill Jeff Luhnow's shoes. This team has what it takes to win it all and still compete for years to come!

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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