ALDS PREVIEW

Astros vs. A's series breakdown: Attention to detail

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Mon, Oct. 5 - HOU: Lance McCullers Jr. vs. OAK: Chris Bassitt

Tue, Oct. 6 - HOU: Framber Valdez vs. OAK: Sean Manaea

Rest of Series TBD

STORYLINES

Ridin' high- The Astros swiftly took care of business against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the best-of-three series from the Twinkies. Houston will look to ride that momentum into their series against Oakland. Oakland required three games to beat the White Sox at home, and Oakland was on the ropes in game three before coming back to win it. One of these teams clearly played better baseball in the wild card round.

Win the Details - Houston won their series because of small details. Jorge Polanco's error in game one cost Minnesota. Walks and grinded-out at-bats were the edge in game two. Oakland is a better team than Minnesota, so that attention to detail needs to stick. While the Astros won the details, they weren't perfect, as Kyle Tucker and Josh Reddick both had misplayed balls off the wall in Minnesota.

Neutral sites & warm weather - The weather in Minnesota was the worst the Astros have had to play in all year, as they faced cool temperatures and rainy weather. Combine that with the spacious Target Field, and it quickly became a suppressed offensive environment. Dodger Stadium is equally cavernous, but the warm weather will help the offensive environment. Plus, neither of these teams are at home. The Astros road woes are seemingly behind them.

Fabulous Framber- Framber Valdez has earned the start in game two following his magnificent relief outing in game one. Valdez became the first pitcher since Madison Bumgarner in 2014 to pitch five scoreless relief innings in the postseason. Yes, Bumgarner's team won the World Series that year.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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