SERIES PREVIEW

Astros vs. Twins: It's time to flip the switch

It's playoff time! Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tue, Sept. 29 - HOU: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03) vs. MIN: Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70)

Wed, Sept. 30 - HOU: TBD vs. MIN: Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00)

Thur, Oct. 1 - HOU: Lance McCullers (3-3, 3.93) vs. MIN: Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38)

STORYLINES

Flip the Switch: The Astros limp into the playoffs with a 29-31 record, definitely a beneficiary of the expanded postseason picture for 2020. However, once the postseason starts, all the teams are 0-0. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve started to show glimpses of turning the corner in the final series against the Rangers, while Kyle Tucker and George Springer carried the offense down the stretch. If those four can click combined with the ever-so-steady Michael Brantley, then the Astros have the opportunity to play spoiler in Minnesota.

Home Dreamin' vs. Road Demons: The Minnesota Twins played 24-7 baseball within the confines of Target Field, while the Houston Astros were 9-23 when they played anywhere other than the juicebox. It's certainly an ugly split, and the lack of home field advantage is definitely a factor for the Astros.

Who Chunks Up the Deuce: Zack Greinke is slated to start game one, while Lance McCullers looks poised to take the rubber in game three. One of Framber Valdez or Jose Urquidy will take the mound in game two. Urquidy was nails in the World Series last year. He's a bulldog that performs consistently and gives the team a chance to win every time he takes the hill. Look for Dusty to use Urquidy in game two, while keeping Framber available as a bridge to more trusted relievers.

Doors Open & Close: The series in Minnesota could be the last time that George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, and Yuli Gurriel ever suit up for the Astros. Three of those four have been key contributors in Houston since 2017, while Brantley joined the fray in 2019. World Series title or not, 2020 represents the close of the Altuve-Springer window in Houston. While it's possible Springer could come back, Altuve isn't going anywhere, and the Astros will still be good, future titles will come with a new-look roster on the backs of guys like Bregman, Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez.

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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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