Astros will have some tough decisions on postseason roster

Where Dallas Keuchel pitches could be a big question. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the Astros look to repeat as champs they go into this postseason with a better rotation and bullpen than last year but not nearly as stout offensively. That makes for some tough decisions for A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow as they set up their starters and lineup against Cleveland.

One thing that is not in doubt is who will start Game 1 for the Astros. After an unusually rough August Justin Verlander is back in that same form he took into last postseason posting a 3-0 record and a 1.33 ERA in September. Verlander vs Kluber will be the premier matchup of the divisional round.

It will be interesting to see what Hinch does in Game 2. Even though he is without a doubt the Astros second best pitcher I don’t think it’s a lock that Gerrit Cole will get the start. A lot of managers like the righty lefty righty approach to their rotation. Seeing the ball from the same side in consecutive games can get hitters in a groove. I’m not sure exactly how overstated that is but it’s been an old baseball wives’ tale for time immemorial and you can’t argue with wives’ tales.

Plus Hinch probably has a soft spot for Dallas Keuchel. Before JV got here Keuchel was his ace and they have been through plenty of big games together. As free agency looms he might show deference towards Dallas, not that it’ll help re-sign him. Money’s the sticking point there. The question for Hinch is whether or not Keuchel will step up in the big situation like he has in the past as opposed to the guy who’s given up 15 earned runs in his last four starts.

Then there’s Charlie Morton’s shoulder issue. Is he going to be good enough to go? Is Josh James an option as a playoff starter so young into his major league career? If Cole goes in Game 2 is James possibly the Game 3 starter and Keuchel goes in Game 4 or do you skip Keuchel altogether if you’re down two games to one? James has been better than Keuchel this month but will he be with all that playoff pressure? Some tough calls for Hinch.

My bet is that his rotation will be Verlander Cole Keuchel Morton with James replacing Morton if Morton can’t go.

As far as the bullpen goes Osuna is your closer until he proves otherwise but Ryan Pressly is your best option. If it’s the 8th inning in a close game and their 3,4,5 are coming up Hinch will be best served going to Pressly. If Brent Strom really did fix Hector Rondon’s mechanics then that’ll be a Godsend for Hinch. You can’t leave Tony Sipp or Collin McHugh out of the equation. They’ve been money all year and Joe Smith deserves some playoff innings the way he’s pitched down the stretch. You can certainly see Brad Peacock getting the call when they need a big strikeout. Hinch has that confidence in him.

What Hinch does with the lineup will be interesting. The Indians will throw all right handers. As crazy as it may be Tony Kemp is a better option at the plate than Carlos Correa is. Let me say that again because it just doesn’t sound right. Tony Kemp is a better option at the plate than Carlos Correa is. Wow. Can’t believe I’m saying that but it’s true.

If you were to objectively look at this team this year without preconceived notions of what they’ve done in years past or where you drafted them, here’s your starting lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs:

George Springer   CF

Jose Altuve           2B

Alex Bregman       3B

Marwin Gonzalez  SS

Yuli Gurriel            1B

Josh Reddick        RF

Tyler White           DH

Brian McCann        C

Tony Kemp            LF

I’ve got Marwin at short because they’re better defensively with Bregman at third. McCann is a coin flip over the Machete but he gets the call because of his experience in big games.

That’s the optimal lineup but Hinch will probably go with Correa. He’s loyal like that. As bad as Josh Reddick was last postseason with his .413 OPS he still started every game of the playoffs. Correa means a lot to this organization. It had to be hard enough for Hinch to drop him to fifth then sixth in the order. Not starting him in the playoffs would be a crushing blow to his psyche. Plus I think you have to believe that at some point he will bounce back and be Carlos Correa again. He’s too good to be this bad.

Then there’s Lance McCullers Jr. He looked pretty good in his first outing in Toronto. Hit 94 on the gun. That’s huge but is there enough time for him to get ready for the playoffs? Sure would be nice to have that curveball available but how much command will he have with all this time missed? I can’t believe he will be on the divisional round roster, maybe the ALCS.

Here’s how I see the 25 man against the Indians:

IF:    Gurriel, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, White, Gonzalez

OF:  Springer, Reddick, Kemp, Marisnick

C:    McCann, Maldonado

DH:  Ga ttis

SP:  Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, Morton

RP:  Osuna, Rondon, Pressly, Sipp, McHugh, Peacock,                    

       James, Smith

Will Harris will be a tough call for Hinch. He hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 12 outings lowering his ERA by over a point since Aug. 14 and he’s got big game experience, but there are only 25 spots and having that 100 mile an hour Josh James fastball at his disposal might be too much for Hinch to pass up. If Morton can’t go Harris will get the call. Otherwise I just don’t know how you fit him onto the roster.

This certainly isn’t a better team offensively than last year’s team but it is much better on the mound. That Indians rotation is no joke either but their bullpen is. Get to the bullpen early and the Astros can breeze into the ALCS.

Astros in 4.

Thank you and good night.




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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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