Charlie Pallilo: Astros should benefit from soft schedule

Dallas Keuchel has not been good. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros underwhelmed as they ran their four series gauntlet against their probable four fellow American League playoff teams, but it’s not as if their 6-7 record was horrible. The Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, and Mariners draw good paychecks too. Now the clouds have parted and the Astros should win a truckload of games between now and the All-Star break. As the Astros started their four game series in Arlington vs. the Rangers they had 36 games left before the break, exactly zero of them against anybody with a winning record.

To the Mariners’ credit they took advantage of a soft schedule stretch and ripped off 16 wins in 22 games and vaulted over the Astros to lead the American League West. But the schedule worm has turned. While the Astros play nobody good for the next month-plus, the Mariners have nine games against the Angels, seven against the Red Sox, and three against the Yankees. Add in six interleague games against the Rockies and that’s 25 out of 32 games upcoming for the Mariners vs. teams now over .500. They won’t necessarily sink like a stone, but they almost certainly won’t be winning two out of every three.

So it will be a definite disappointment and a big surprise if the Astros aren’t leading the division at the break.

The Astros still have not won a game all season in which they’ve trailed by more than two runs. They still are 0 for 2018 when trailing after eight innings. Nobody wins many games when trailing after eight but the Astros have blown three games when up going to the ninth.

Bearded blunder

It’s not quite a Keuchel Konundrum (especially since the word is conundrum) but Dallas needs to pick it up a bit or his spot in the starting rotation could wind up jeopardized. Collin McHugh is an obvious alternative. In the 80s Rod Stewart had a hit with Some Guys Have All The Luck. Rod meant good luck. Keuchel is the first eight game loser in the Majors this season, but while his performance has been mediocre overall he’s had bad luck too. Over his last eight starts Keuchel for his mound opponent twice drew Yankee ace Luis Severino, twice drew Indian ace and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cory Kluber, once drew Oakland’s best and fresh off a no-hitter Sean Manaea, and most recently drew Mariner ace James Paxton. Keuchel’s ERA over those eight starts is 4.70 so he flat out hasn’t been good enough consistently enough. But check out the Astro run totals in Dallas’s defeats this season: 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 4, 3, 1. No pitcher can produce a good record with that level of support. Keuchel took a no-decision at Cleveland after throwing six innings of two-run ball. The Astros scored nothing while Keuchel was in the game, then eleven runs off of the Indians’ bullpen in the final two innings.

Hold those Tigers

The 2014 Detroit Tigers had Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello 1-2-3 in their starting rotation. They got swept in the Division Series. The Tigers then traded Porcello, saw Scherzer walk as a free agent, and then a couple of years later traded Verlander. Porcello won a Cy Young Award in 2016, Scherzer won Cy Young Awards in both 2016 and 2017. Scherzer and Verlander may both win Cy Young Awards in 2018. The Tigers winningest pitcher this season is Mike Fiers.

Pat hand

A positive of the Texans’ offseason surfaced Thursday with word that Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman faces a four game PED suspension (he’s appealing). We’re three months out from the Texans-Patriots season opener in Foxborough. Edelman missed all last season after a preseason ACL tear. Tom Brady and the Pats held up OK. Shockingly, Rob Gronkowski didn’t retire and leave more than eight and a half million dollars on the table, so the Patriots figure to continue holding up OK.

Hall of shame

So Terrell Owens finally gets elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and announces he won’t be showing up for the induction ceremony this summer in Canton Ohio. Should make for a classier ceremony.

No decision?

As the Warriors polish off the Cavaliers, Rocket fantasists will ratchet up the “LeBron to Houston!” talk. I’m a pretty big never say never guy but the only Hall of Famer-to be James on the Rockets next season will be Harden.

Buzzer beaters

1. Justify should take the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown Saturday. What a stud.  2. It’s better that in their 44th season of trying the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup than if the expansion Vegas Golden Knights had won it. The Knights’ first season is still one of the most amazing team stories ever. 3. Greatest Triple Crown winners:  Bronze-Mickey Mantle Silver-Ted Williams Gold-Secretariat.


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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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