The Third Starter

Collin McHugh is all that so far

Collin McHugh/Facebook

I know we're just four starts in and you can't make any assumptions in a baseball season until September but maybe just maybe the Astros have found their third starter and he's been right under our nose the whole time.

This is not something the organization had to realize. They've been on the Collin McHugh train since the offseason began. We fans have been slower on the uptake.

The first rumblings came early in the offseason when the team allegedly went after Nathan Eovaldi then James Paxton. They obviously had a number for each in mind that they wouldn't exceed and they lost out to the Red Sox and Yankees on both.

I for one wanted to see them go after Corey Kluber. I dreamed of a rotation of Verlander, Kluber, Cole and then fill in the gaps. Those three at the top of any rotation is the stuff parades are made of. It wasn't realistic to think the Indians wold trade him to the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year but I could dream anyway.

Can't tell you how many times I've been asked if the Astros would re-sign Dallas Keuchel. My answer every time has been a fervent no. It seems almost inconceivable that a guy who won the Cy Young four years ago and was a number two starter on a World Series team just two years ago is still out of work but he's just not the same dominant guy he was. Not even close. Soft tossing lefties are not in high demand especially ones who are 31 and looking for big money long term deals. His last couple of years have not warranted it. He started 2017 with a 9-0 record. He had shoulder issues and finished the second half with a 5-5 record but more than that, every important stat was worse post all-star break. Maybe that was due to the injury but last year when he was thought to healthy he wasn't much better. He gave up more hits and faced more batters than anyone in the league. His WAR was his second worst since 2013. His K/W was down. His WHIP was up and so on and so on. He's not a top of the rotation guy anymore but wants to be paid like it. The marketplace is telling him it's not going to happen, not unless a good team gets desperate anyway.

In spring training Forest Whitley was all the rave. He looked great and he was ready to come in and assume that role of third starter. One problem: tough to do that from Round Rock and oh by the way he hasn't been all that in his two starts. His second outing on Monday lasted 1 1/3 and he has a 9.95 ERA. No big deal but not something any player wants to look up at on the scoreboard no matter how early in the season. The common thought is that the club will bring him up in June to get that extra year of service. If so it'll be plenty of time for Whitley to get acclimated to the bigs and pitch in some pressure games before the postseason. He's got top of the rotation stuff and could eventually be the ace here but when he does get here he's going to have prove that he's good enough to be the third starter on this staff because Collin McHugh won't relinquish that without a fight.

For whatever reason I just don't believe we've bought into McHugh as a big time starter. Maybe it's because of how he looks. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with his looks but it's not what an overpowering athlete is in 2019. Verlander and Cole look the part, McHugh not so much. But looks can be deceiving. Since he's joined the Astros he's had a winning record every year. He's 57-31. He's had a 19 win season. Some 3rd starters never do that. After going 48-28 over 4 seasons as a starter he was asked to come out of the bullpen and responded with what could have and maybe should have been an all-star season.

One big question coming into this season was whether or not McHugh could pitch deep into games after a year in the pen. He went 3 innings twice all of last season. If he couldn't it would certainly tax a bullpen that looks weaker without him and Brad Peacock. So far though he's gone six innings in 3 of his 4 starts. That could get better but A.J. may have some of the same doubt about him that we do. If your name is Verlander or Cole, A.J. will leave you in until you think you're done. If your name isn't Verlander or Cole he takes you out when he thinks you're done.

It's a long season and there are a bunch of starts left but McHugh has allayed some of the fears many of us had this offseason. He certainly looks the part of a 3rd starter on a championship team so far.

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It's all about Deshaun. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Texans moved to 3-7 following their 27-20 win over the Patriots. They are still without a permanent head coach and general manager. There lies the problem, and those problems will be settled this upcoming offseason. The new general manager and head coach will steer this franchise in the direction it needs to go in. Undoubtedly, Deshaun Watson will be at the forefront of what they do. How can he not be? You don't take a job like this with a quarterback like him and not consider him the centerpiece. What else would make one take either of those jobs? The salary cap hell the team is facing? The lack of draft picks coming off a terrible year? The faith ownership has placed in the NFL's version of Littlefinger?

Watson is the lone attraction to the flaming dumpster fire Cal McNair allowed to occur on his watch. If he's not careful, it could get worse and he'll find it hard to recover from. Watson signed an extension that'll keep him in Houston for another four years. He'll still be in his prime (barring any serious, career-threatening injury), and be eligible to hit the market as a free agent before he turns 30. So who do the Texans hire as head coach that can get the most out of Watson? Who can convince him to stay and re-sign after his extension is up?

The main cast of characters will most likely take better jobs. The Jets job is more attractive because of the cap space and draft picks. If the Falcons job opens up, so is it because of Matt Ryan and that offense. What coach/coaches would be interested in taking on this job that would be viable candidates given that the best of the best would take other jobs? Jayson Braddock and I tackled this topic not too long ago on Late Hits. Here are a few guys off the beaten path we felt were contenders:

Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator: Daboll is a guy who, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, is openly campaigning for this job. The work he's done with Josh Allen has been remarkable. Allen has gone from a raw prospect with all the physical tools to an MVP candidate. Who wouldn't want a guy like that in Watson's ear guiding him over the foreseeable future?

Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator: Roman has done wonders for Colin Kaepernick and Lamar Jackson. He helped Kaepernick reach a Super Bowl with the 49ers and turned Jackson into last season's league MVP. Given his history with athletic quarterbacks, he should be a natural fit and given full consideration.

Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator: Here's where it gets interesting. Elliott has been the OC (or co-OC) at Clemson since 2015. He has an established relationship with Watson and a proven track record as a coordinator of high-powered offenses in college. He's the type of hire that won't cost as much as some big names will, but might be able to provide the same spark.

Note that all three of these guys are offensive coaches. I fully understand that the defense is an issue and needs help desperately. I also understand that the previous two coaches were offensive guys as well. But Watson is your franchise quarterback and the most attractive piece in a pile of flaming dung that resides on Kirby. If anyone is going to take this job, it'll be because of number four. I know these aren't the sexy names most folks would want to hear, but these names are more realistic as candidates. None of them has head coaching experience. That fact cheapens their price tag and lends itself to them being long shots. A lot of this depends on the general manager hire. We'll get into that in another articel. For right now, dwell on this and let me know what you think.

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