Despite tough week, Astros should cruise into postseason

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Welcome to summer! In sports that does mean the dog days, as for the next two months-plus baseball is the only mainstream major team sport in season. Despite stinking this week and losing five games in a row, the Astros are wonderfully worthy of having the stage to themselves until late-August. Think what a depressing sports stretch this is in Baltimore, Kansas City, or Miami, where the baseball season has been effectively finished since Easter. Heck, it was utterly miserable here for several years running before 2015.

Big series between Astros and Yankees

The Astros-Yankees series this weekend could certainly wind up being a precursor to them meeting in the American League Championship Series matchup for the second time in three years. The Astros should cruise into the postseason as the winner of the AL West. The Yankees are in a battle for the East with the Tampa Bay Rays, and the reigning World Series Champion Red Sox are definitely within striking distance.

Before this week's hiccup the Astros had rolled on despite the extended absences of Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. The Yankees have rolled just as well, and their injury toll this season makes the Astros look like they've been a paragon of health. Giancarlo Stanton has played in five games. Aaron Judge just 20. 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar played only 12 before being lost to season ending shoulder surgery. Their best starting pitcher each of the last two seasons was Luis Severino. He hasn't thrown a pitch in 2019, neither has four-time All-Star reliever Dellin Betances. Domingo German leads the Yanks with nine wins, now he's on the IL.

We'll presume that Jose Altuve has plenty of good baseball ahead of him. With five years 151.5 mil kicking in next season the Astros darn sure hope (pray?) so. It's extremely likely that Altuve's best seasons (2016 and 2017) are behind him. The Altuve of 2014, 2015, and pre-injury 2018 is an outstanding player, but not worth 31 mil per season.

Rockets spectators at NBA Draft again

When the highlight of an NBA team's draft night is unveiling revised uniforms, you know draft night was a dud. Behold the Houston Rockets who had zero picks. It's the fourth year in a row the Rockets had no first rounder. This year was a straight salary dump, the pick a necessary attachment to get Cleveland to take Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss off of the Rockets' hands. Last year's pick was a piece of the Chris Paul trade, the 2017 pick went to rent Lou Williams. The 2016 pick given up for Ty Lawson is the one that smarts most in hindsight. Lawson stunk, the Rockets finished 41-41 making the pick number 15. Among the players who went later than 15th in 2016 before the Rockets selected Chinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi in the second round: Malik Beasley, Caris LeVert, Pascal Siakam, Dejounte Murray, and Malcolm Brogdon. Oops.

Who knows what to believe about the extent of hard feelings between Paul and James Harden. Of course the Rockets are doing to deny, deny, deny that it's messy or problematic. Especially as they try to find a dumping ground for Paul's contract. There may not be one. Paul is still a capable NBA point guard but his superstar days are done, making the three years 124 million left on his deal a nightmare. Ask Tilman Fertitta.

Clown show tendencies on display for Texans

When, as Clay Walker sings, it's football time in Houston, what will the Texans look like? The answer should be at least a decent team. Though the last couple of weeks they made themselves a punch line. Two weeks ago they fire general manager Brian Gaine, trying to bury the story best they could when they did. Then they target New England Patriots exec Nick Caserio for the job. They evidently clumsily and ignorantly make their move, resulting in the Patriots filing a tampering charge against the Texans, then two days later the Texans humiliatingly announce they are dropping their pursuit of Caserio. You wonder if the Patriots also took the Texans' lunch money, or maybe gave them a wedgie.

The Texans have never been a top tier football organization. They have never sustained excellence. They have rarely achieved excellence. But they have not been an incompetent clown show of an organization. Clown organizations don't win five division titles in eight years, regardless of softness of the division over some of those years. A clown organization doesn't go a full decade without having back-to-back losing seasons. Through this episode the Texans have looked like a clown organization.

Winning big is the best deodorant in sports. This coming season the Texans better win big or the sentiment of many around here will be that they stink, even if they don't stink.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Zion Williamson averages 18 & 10 as a rookie. 2. Properly grilled corn-on-the-cob needs no butter, no salt, no pepper, and NEVER mayo. 3. Greatest "Summer" athletes: Bronze-Champ Summers Silver-Pat Summerall Gold-Summer Sanders

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Dustin Johnson already committed to play in the Houston Open. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Golfers around the world have been able to enjoy playing 18 holes despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as golf has been deemed a "social-distancing" sport. Houston golfers have been rewarded this year with a newly renovated Memorial Park course that is already being spruced up in preparation for the upcoming Houston Open.

The PGA's adjusted schedule has the tour coming to Houston November 2-8, a week before the Masters.

Current hope is for the Houston Open being played in front of cheering fans, according to tournament director, Colby Callaway. Callaway recently talked with SportsMap about what fans and players can expect when the Houston Open returns to Memorial Park for the first time since 1963.

SportsMap: What is the Houston Open's current position in regard to fans in attendance?

Colby Callaway: Currently we are working on a number of contingency plans and exploring all sorts of options. I wish we could say 'this is our plan' right now, and put that thing in concrete, but I just can't. 2020 is causing all of us grief in all sorts of imaginative ways, and it's certainly creating some chaos when it comes to putting a plan together for us. We're all committed to being as flexible in our planning as possible and will adjust as need be. We do think we'll have an idea very soon, and hope to announce some sort of plan over the next couple of weeks.

SM: What can Houstonians look forward to with the new course at Memorial Park?

CC: Well it's a really fun course. Players can absolutely bomb drives. The key will be their approach shots and how they navigate the sticky rough and very tricky green complexes. Several holes were re-routed and in doing so it provided some great spectator viewing areas. There is a fantastic spot where the Par 3 2nd hole, the Par 5 3rdHole, and the Par 3 7th all come together. It'll be a great area to sit and watch golf all day long. The Par 3 9th will be a great viewing spot for spectators as well. On the backside, lots of risk and reward comes into play on 15, 16 and 17. Water becomes a big factor on all 3 holes so a sense of caution is created, but the temptation to do something spectacular is there as well. It's going to be a very exciting stretch.

SM: What changes to the golf course will Memorial Park golfers find following the tournament?

CC: Two things in particular will benefit Memorial Park golfers. First the range will be fully functional by then. It's been open awhile now, but limited in spots to what you could hit club wise. By the time the event rolls around we'll have expanded the range so you can bring and hit any club in your bag. Yes, the big dog (driver) will now be able to hunt!

The other nice addition is an oversized putting green and chipping area that was created adjacent to the 1st tee and 18th green. It's a much-needed improvement. The finished product will be a great spot for the casual golfer to roll some putts and work on his or her short game.

SM: When will Memorial Park Golf Course be closed to the public before the tournament?

CC: The plan is to close it down sometime during the week before the tournament. We'll be working around golfers for approximately 20 days leading up to the event building our operational needs. As a casual golfer it's a fun time to play. There is definitely a little more activity in and around the course, but it's a lot of fun to watch the progress of the build.

SM: What special COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place during the tournament?

CC: We'll have a plan above and beyond what is required per the rules and guidelines we are given. We are currently working with our operational partners to make sure we're all on the same page when it some to these regulations. I can promise we'll error on the side of caution, and make sure our patrons feel safe when they enter the grounds. The positive is we have over 250 acres of green grass and fresh air to socially distance on. A golf course truly does have its advantages.

SM: Are you under any pressure to bring fans to the tournament because of its placement a week before the Masters?

CC: I don't think so. Speaking for our team, I know they don't feel any pressure. Maybe if this was a different year, and we didn't have all of the uncertainty swirling around, there would be some. It's just not something we are going to put any energy into worrying about this fall. We have enough on our plate.

SM: In prior years, Golf Club of Houston made efforts to replicate conditions at Augusta National. Will you be doing the same?

CC: No. Honestly even if we wanted to we couldn't. With the time of year we are in it's really impossible to over-seed, and that's the only way to create those iconic Masters-like conditions. Now we'll do everything asked of us by the TOUR to make it the best 2020 Houston Open course condition wise. They ultimately put the competition plan together. That plan includes among other things: required rough height, green speeds, and tee to green yardages. I know Jason Harsh, Director of Golf for the Houston Parks and Rec Department, will have his team prepare the course to the best of their abilities. One plus when you are a course that hosts a PGA TOUR event is you receive year-long plans and assistance from the PGA TOUR Agronomy Department. That's big for the event, but also a nice plus for all of us who enjoy playing Memorial year around. Following these plans course conditions will continue to get better and better each year.

SM: You have a lot of experience managing golf tournaments, most recently serving as the tournament director of AT&T's PGA Tour Champions event in San Antonio. How will your experiences help you to execute a successful Houston Open?

CC: It's crazy to think this is my 20th year being a part of a team that manages professional golf events. Even crazier to think that less than a year ago I felt like I had seen it all when it comes to things that could affect golf tournaments. I've worked events since 2000 that have experienced tornadoes, floods, hail, high winds, sleet, drought, dead greens, etc… but no one ever said we'd deal with a pandemic. Good Lord, maybe I've stayed in the business a little too long!

Kidding aside, fortunately I've spent most of those 20 years working for and with some of the best in the business. I've kept my eyes and ears open, and maybe most importantly learned to adapt to the situation at hand. Concrete plans do not exist in the professional golf world as Mother Nature will always have the last say. You put a plan together, but always must remain fluid and have contingency plans in your back pocket. Of course, this is unlike anything I've ever had to deal with. We will, however, figure this out and do our best to put on a really successful, and safe, Houston Open.

SM: The Astros Foundation is well known to support youth baseball and softball programs, how will the new partnership between the Foundation and the Houston Open bring more opportunities to junior golf in Houston?

CC: Junior golfers will benefit greatly from the Houston Open moving to Memorial Park. The Astros Golf Foundation is finishing up a par 3 course, which sits adjacent to the 1st fairway and 18th fairway, that will allow participants in the First Tee program an opportunity to hone their skills year around.

The Astros Golf Foundation will continue to support the First Tee financially as well with a yearly donation of $500K. The First Tee is an incredible program and I know our team loves being a part of their growth.

Also via a generous partnership with Chevron, the Astros Golf Foundation is building the Chevron Center for Education & Kids. This classroom style space will be housed in the new Astros Golf Foundation building currently under construction behind the 9th green at Memorial Park. This center will be open year around and will host students from all over the Houston area teaching them skills within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) academic disciplines.

The best way to receive information about the event is to follow socially. Our social handles are located below.

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