Houston had a pretty rough week, but things should be just fine

Shrug it off, Astros, it was just a bad week

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Last Sunday when you looked at the upcoming week of games, if you were like me you probably saw an opportunity for the Astros to overpower their opponents and stay in front of the Yankees as owners of the best record in the American League. Going into the series finale with the Orioles that day, they were also just a half-game behind the Dodgers for the best record in the league.

Things looked rough at first in that game with Baltimore, as Justin Verlander went on to post one of his worst starts of the season by allowing four runs over just five innings. But then, the Astros did what you would expect, they used their potent offense to get back into the game and in fact, took a two-run lead in the top of the ninth which looked to lock up the series sweep.

That's when things turned south for the Astros. Roberto Osuna blew the save, putting the Astros on the losing side of one of the biggest upsets in recent memory considering how poorly the Orioles have played this season. Still, it was just one game. Houston had a chance to move past that quickly with another game set in Chicago against the White Sox on Monday. The weather would work against Houston to ruin that plan, though, setting up a doubleheader on Tuesday.

Cole's missed start begins a tough stretch for the bullpen

The first game of Tuesday's doubleheader looked precisely like what Houston would have wanted on Monday night to erase the memory of the loss to Baltimore. Greinke went six innings while allowing just two runs, and he got some run support behind him, then the bullpen had three clean, quiet innings to shut things down.

Then, the first of Houston's bad luck started. Gerrit Cole's hamstring gave him discomfort during warmups for the second game of the doubleheader, and he would get scratched. Houston's bullpen, who had just used three of their arms in the first game, had to scramble for a full nine innings. While the collection of relievers allowed four runs, it was Houston's offense that disappointed in the loss, the first of a five-game skid.

One step forward, two steps back

One of the most frustrating parts of the losing streak was that multiple times Houston worked to get the momentum back in their favor with a successful offensive inning, only to see their opponent score in the next half-inning to halt that momentum in its tracks. While credit is due to the White Sox and A's who did a good job against Houston's pitching, it was not a normal thing that the Astros typically experience.

Look no further than the series finale with the White Sox. After trading blows back-and-forth most of the game, Houston received a big momentum boost with a game-tying two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who had allowed just ten earned runs in the entire season so far, was on the mound in the bottom of the inning to hold things there and give the offense another crack at going ahead in the ninth. Instead, he had his worst inning of the season, allowing a grand slam which ultimately lost the game.

That was just one example where it seemed like Houston had the odds tilted against them. While the bullpen is still an area of concern for the Astros, this week was not merely their bad performers going out and letting the team down. It was an all-around tough week for all of Houston's pitching, and a compressed stretch for their bullpen to cover didn't help. Even Aaron Sanchez, who had been terrific in his first two starts with the Astros, had a tough game where he allowed six runs.

Losing streaks are part of the game

While losing streaks are incredibly frustrating, especially when a significant factor of them is only bad luck combined with not playing up to potential, they are bound to happen in a 162-game baseball season. Pair that with a team that's on 100-win pace whose losses are few and far between, and a losing streak of a few games can be perceived a little more drastic than they are. Had these losses been peppered throughout other weeks, these would have easily been games you look at and say, "Oh well, it just wasn't their day."

Things finally took a turn back to normal on Sunday when a good pitching day paired up with some timely offense, resulting in a much more standard game of Astros play which got them back in the win column. Luckily, Gerrit Cole looks to have avoided anything serious with his hamstring and should make his next start on Thursday against the Tigers at home.

They also activated Brad Peacock over the weekend, which means he will provide Houston's bullpen not only with a fresh arm but one that has been successful as a reliever in the past. More reinforcements for the bullpen appear to be on the way with Josh James working through his rehab tasks to make a return before the playoffs.

At the end of the day, a losing streak in August is not nearly as worrying as one in September. Considering the remaining schedule, I would fully expect that Houston goes on a considerable winning streak before another losing streak, and still have a significant chance of locking up the division early, finishing with 100+ wins, and potentially the best overall record.

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Composite image by Brandon Strange.

I certainly understand – and agree with – players who are refusing to go to Orlando to restart this NBA season interruptus. What I don't get is, why baseball is so hot to get a shortened, bizarre season with weird rule changes underway. And why not push the NFL and college football back to 2021, when there may be a vaccine for COVID-19 or at least a better handle on the pandemic?

When hopefully sports can pick up, where they left off, safely with stands filled with cheering fans.

Sports are dangerous in 2020. Coronavirus is a highly contagious, dangerous disease that we still know very little about. Testing is unreliable, with possible false negatives, and results are taking an extra-long time to come back. Six NBA training facilities have shut down because players and staff are testing positive. A bubble isn't 100-percent guaranteed to keep players safe from catching COVID-19. I hear the NBA say the bubble in Orlando will be "as safe as possible." That's not very comforting … "as possible."

Baseball is our most statistic-driven sport. With a season shortened to an unnatural 60 games, and teams' schedules based more on geography than rivalry, fans won't – or shouldn't – take 2020 seriously. What if a player hits .400 for the 60-game season, like when Chipper Jones was hitting .408 after 60 games in 2008? Would anybody accept that a player in 2020, not Ted Williams in 1941, is the last player to top .400 for a season? How will it look if a starting pitcher, who gets only 10 starts the whole season to protect his arm, wins the Cy Young Award with a 7-3 record? Every plate appearance, every pitch thrown, will have a big fat, silly asterisk attached to it.

The Astros won't be traveling to New York to face the Yankees and their angry fans. The current plan has no fans anywhere. You won't hear "Get your peanuts" and "kill the ump" and, depending on the city, "cheaters!" Baseball is a game that thrives on sound as much as images. Baseball will be a silent movie in 2020.

Unless you're LeBron James chasing Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, or the Freak going for back-to-back MVP trophies, or James Harden and Russell Westbrook putting an exclamation point on their Hall of Fame careers, what's to be gained by entering a boring, claustrophobic bubble to complete the 2020 NBA season?

You don't have to be a risk-management expert like George Costanza to know resumption of the NBA season is fraught with danger. San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan is 30 years old and can be an unrestricted free agent next season. The Spurs currently are 27-36, on the outside looking in for an unlikely playoff spot. DeRozan already has been paid $20 million of his $27.8 million salary for this season. He is on Forbes list of the 100 highest-paid athletes in America. He could be in line for another huge-money contract next year. So he's going to go to Orlando, probably to play eight meaningless games, and risk an injury that could cost him a long-term max contract in a few months? DeRozan already has made $121 million over his 10-year career. He doesn't need to travel to Orlando, live in a social experiment environment, to pick up a few measly millions. For what, for the Spurs to clinch a non-playoff spot?

DeRozan, and every other player, isn't just risking a career-ending knee or Achilles injury. We don't know everything about the long-term health consequences of COVID-19. The disease could leave behind lifelong kidney problems or reduced lung capacity. Basketball is a sport that requires ultimate cardio conditioning. Most NBA players will be eligible for free agency, and more and more money, in the next few years. The NBA says no player will be punished if he decides to pass on Orlando. I'd sit out Disney for sure. Pro sports stars are used to living privileged, posh lives. They live in mansions and drive luxury cars and eat in private rooms at the best restaurants. They're going to have trouble cooped up in hotels with guards at the doors to keep them inside. You really think Mrs. Star Athlete isn't going to the salon for the next four months.? I know "normal" women who can't go two weeks without getting their toes done.

I talked with a high school football coach recently. He said football is the perfect petri dish for spreading COVID. We do know that the No. 1 way to spread coronavirus is for an infected person to cough or breath on other people. That's the whole idea behind social distancing and wearing masks. We've all seen football games played in cold weather, where you see the cold, misting breath of opposing lineman collide only inches apart. Then the players huddle up with their helmets practically touching. Prominent college coaches reportedly are OK with delaying the season until spring. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley describes a spring season as "very doable." So why not "doable" it?

A few baseball teams, including the Houston Astros, had to cancel practice this week because there was an unexpected delay in getting back players' coronavirus test results. Is this any way to run a major sport? Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, isn't sure he will play the 2020 season. Trout and his wife are expecting their first child. Other stars like Kris Bryant and Buster Posey aren't confident that their health will be protected if they play this year. David Price and more have flat out said no to 2020. One pro soccer team had to quit the MLS season because so many of its players have tested positive for coronavirus. Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward's wife is pregnant. Hayward already has promised to leave the Orlando bubble when his fourth child is born in September. NBA players are physically fit young men. Many have wives and girlfriends, sometimes both. It's not natural, certainly not fun, for players to enter a biosphere without their partners.

And for what? To play games without fans, with fake crowd noise pumped into arenas to simulate "real game" conditions in crunch time? The games will be televised, possibly on tape delay because some players will be mic'd up and the league doesn't want fans at home to hear naughty language? Eavesdropping on what really is said on the court and during timeouts may be the best part of televising these games. And they're taking that away from us, too?

A big part of 2020 already is a washout. Sports, athletes and fans, should wait until it's safe to come out and play.

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