THE PALLILOG

At this point, Astros just adding to an amazing season

How many feathers can the Astros fit in their caps?

They almost added a doozy Wednesday night when Zack Greinke took his no-hit bid to the ninth inning in Seattle. No team in Major League Baseball history has pitched three no-hitters in the same season. Alas that's still the case, but boy the Astros came close to being the first.

If the flat out most talented top to bottom team is to win the World Series next month, it will be the Astros. No one else has a better shot, but winning it is far from likely. This is the 25th season since the implementation of the Wild Card. Only six times in 24 years has the team with best record in the regular season then won the World Series. There simply is no such thing as a massive upset in a three out of five or four out of seven playoff series. It looks like the American League Wild Card game (the winner of which will head to Houston) will match the A's and Rays. The A's would have plenty of reason to be confident against the Astros, having taken three out of four from them twice within a month. From June 15 forward the A's have the better record. That's more than half the season. But it could be all over for the A's in one Wild Card game loss. The Astros went 3-4 vs. the Rays. Losing three of four in St. Petersburg to open the season. The Astros have no reason to fear anybody, but Oakland looks to be the less desirable opponent. As a clincher, Oakland is a much longer flight.

A.J. Hinch should be pondering a couple of things heading into the postseason. After his hot April Josh Reddick hasn't been a good player this year. Kyle Tucker has swung the bat well since his call up. Tucker starting in right field with Reddick off the bench merits consideration. Michael Brantley has collapsed the last month. His last double was on August 22. Whether he's worn down a bit or just in a protracted slump, there is no compelling reason to keep Brantley third in the batting order with Yordan Alvarez in the five hole. Hey, Brantley could catch fire in the playoffs while Alvarez could fall on his face. But off of a season body of work and more recent performance, why would you bat the clearly superior weapon two spots lower in the order?

Alex Bregman has obviously had the best season of all everyday player Astros. Bregman's American League Most Valuable Player case has gathered strength, though it's homerism to think he definitely should win. Equally obvious, George Springer has had the second best season. Springer's recent 11 home runs in 16 games eruption reminded that had he not spent a month on the injured list he might be right there with Bregman as an MVP alternative to Mike Trout. If not for the IL stint, maintaining his rate of production in the games he has played would mean Springer would have more homers and RBI than Bregman. Springer would have blown past 100 RBI and become the third player ever to post 100 RBI from the leadoff spot. Darren Erstad sold his soul to the devil for his 2000 season with the Angels, Charlie Blackmon did it two years ago but only because he plays home games in the offensive freak show environment that is Denver.

Bigger Springer numbers going forward, contract numbers. He's making 12 million dollars this season. Next season that should jump to 17-20 million, then without an extension agreed upon he'd become a free agent. Springer turned 30 last week, he can't be a free agent until he's 31, so that he'd command some six or seven year deal on the open market is basically out of the question. This offseason, if you're George Springer, would you take, say, four years 85 million, for generations of financial security. If you're the Astros, with their skyrocketing payroll, would you offer it? We wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs. If the Astros keep Cole, trading Zack Greinke is a distinct possibility. If the Astros keep Justin Verlander, Cole, and Greinke? Stunning.

The Texans are two home wins from taking a 4-1 record to Kansas City in a couple of weeks. Their wins over the Jaguars and Chargers weren't masterful performances. The Texans benefitted greatly from The Jags and Bolts each being down at least four starters. But style points and level of impressiveness don't matter. At 2-1 the Texans are four and a half point favorites over the Panthers. Win Sunday and they'll certainly be favored next week over the Falcons.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It's only vs. the Shanghai Sharks, but first Russell Westbrook as a Rocket action is Monday. Presuming he plays some. 2. Anyone really think it's better than 50/50 D'Eriq King plays at UH next season? 3. Notable sports quitters: Bronze-Randy Moss, most plays when not the primary recieverSilver-Scottie Pippen playoff game vs. KnicksGold-Roberto Duran "No Mas."


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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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