After Correa situation plays out, here are the next challenges for Houston sports

Astros Carlos Correa
Don't be surprised if Correa heads to Detroit. Composite image by Jack Brame.

We can all use a breather after the thrilling, heart-pounding 2021 Astros season that propelled them – and the City of Houston – to a third American League pennant in five years and another visit to the World Series. Even though we – and the Astros certainly qualify as a citywide "we" –came up short in the Series, it was a fun run that made us proud. Simply, Houston loves our Astros.

Thankfully, here come the Houston Rockets and Houston Texans to lower our heart rates and bring us thudding down to reality. If the Astros were Red Bull, the Rockets and Texans are Xanax, the 2 mg. sticks.

The way things are looking, there won't be any must-win games leading to the post-season for either team. Hell, there'll only be most-lose games chasing No. 1 picks in future drafts.

While the NFL is in full swing, and the NBA is getting serious, the only sports excitement in Houston still revolves around the Astros. Will the Astros make a competitive bid to keep Carlos Correa? According to reports, the Astros have offered the hottest free agent since Macho Man Savage $160 million over five years. It's a fair offer … per year. But in baseball's current economic climate it's like the contestant on Price is Right bidding $1 hoping the other contestants are high-balling the price of a Whirlpool washer-dryer. While bidding $1 may be a douchey (it's in the Merriam-Webster dictionary) move, it works more than you think. And Correa definitely is the top prize in the showcase showdown this year.

Mark this down, but only if it comes true: I have friends in high places (low places, too) in Detroit – the Tigers will do whatever it takes to land Correa. That's where he's going.

Now Houston turns its lonely eyes to the Texans and Rockets.

The Texans are 1-8 in solid command of last place in the AFC South. They have scored the fewest points and given up the most points in the entire NFL. That's not good. Rookie Davis Mills is the lowest-rated quarterback in the league. The defense is porous and the offense is a bumbling mess of inefficiency and bad decisions.

Before the season, I predicted that the Texans would go winless, the first 0-17 team in NFL history. The Jacksonville Jaguars screwed up my clean slate by losing to the Texans in Week One. But the Jags have since won two games, while the Texans are reeling on a well-earned 8-game losing streak … and sinking fast. I say they'll finish the job and end 1-16 and get the No. 1 draft pick. Naturally there doesn't appear to be a lock star quarterback looming. Just the Texans' luck.

If the NFL relegated losing teams like English soccer does, the Texans would be playing in the SEC next season, and I'm not sure they could beat Georgia or Alabama. Let's make the Texans +350 to make the college football playoff.

The Texans have zero star power in Houston. How many pictures of Texans are on kids' bedroom walls? How many would you recognize? The coach looks like he's just woke up from a coma and fumbles for excuses in post-game press conferences. Wait, fumbles are something the Texans are good at. There's a positive.

While the term "clown show" is bandied about on sports talk radio, here's the biggest joke at NRG Stadium. According to official league records, the Texans are averaging 67,722 fans at their four home games so far. Seriously? Do the crowd-counters at NRG have double vision, which still wouldn't reflect the accurate crowd size? NRG is one step from tarping the upper deck, which still would leave plenty of elbow room for fans in the lower bowl. On the positive side, lines are short at restrooms and there are no traffic jams leaving the parking lot, except maybe in the third quarter.

It's a sad situation. You've got the highest-paid player, the only recognizable star on the team, sitting home on game day, the fans think the owner is a goofball, the real boss is an evil mystic who doesn't know a lick about football personnel. The Houston Texans are a civic embarrassment. Good thing Texas isn't a football state. Oh, wait.

Put it this way, the only team in the NFL with a worse record than the Texans is the Detroit Lions, and the Lions would be favored to beat the Texans.

Now the Rockets. Last year, the Rockets finished with the disastrous record (17-55), one of the worst seasons in NBA history. This year's Rockets (1-9) are off to an even worse start. And the same person who counts the crowd at Texans games must be pulling double-duty at Toyota Center.

Admittedly, this year's Rockets, led by high-flying rookie sensation Jalen Green, are a faster, more exciting team. But faster and more exciting don't win games. Like that game show, it's wins that count, and you are the weakest link Rockets, good-bye.

Now back to something that Houston fans actually care about …think Justin Verlander wants to stay with the Astros?

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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