A NEW WORLD?

Del Olaleye: Houston, you are the favorite. How does it feel?

The Astros did it. Can they do it again? Can the Rockets? Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We’re in new territory as a city. The Astros are world champions and the favorites to repeat. The best team in basketball calls Houston home. There is a legit shot that Houston is the home to two major sports champions by the time June ends. Houston isn’t used to being the hunted. How does it feel to have the target on your back in two sports? I moved to Houston almost 16 years ago and the prevailing sentiment regarding the sports scene since I’ve been here is that for every step forward, they’ll be three steps back. Houston, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The last time the Astros played a meaningful game in Houston they won an epic Game 5 in the World Series. Traveling back to Los Angeles up 3-2 with Justin Verlander ready for game 6 probably felt pretty good. Game 6 didn’t go as planned. The Dodgers beat Verlander and forced a game 7. Did you think game 7 had disaster written all over it? We all know what happened in game 7. The Astros broke a long string of worst possible outcomes for Houston sports. A World Series title hasn’t destroyed the Houston jinx as this shot will confirm (look away Coog fans, look away) but it let the city know that one team could get it done when it mattered most.

April is a few days away and it brings with it the first full month of baseball and the start of the NBA playoffs. Has the Astros title run changed your perspective? Do you expect the Astros and Rockets to win it all or do you believe a Damian Lillard three is around the next corner? I wouldn’t blame you if you were still apprehensive. Disappointment is in your DNA. Hopefully the Astros rewrote the code. For every Lillard or Michigan buzzer beater there is a Marwin Gonzalez home run in the top of the 9th. An Alex Bregman home run in Fenway. The Astros provided moment after moment in the playoffs to show you that they weren’t like every other Houston team that let you down.

The Rockets are next up to try to wash away the failures of past seasons. We’re less than a year removed from that Game 6 against San Antonio. Everything has gone Daryl Morey’s way since. Acquiring Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute along with growth from James Harden has helped make this team the best in basketball. James Harden is the unquestioned MVP. The season up to this point has been a perfect Houston season. The Rockets weren’t the favorites or the most talked about. The entire season has been about surpassing expectations and shutting up doubters. Houston as a city is comfortable in that spot. Doing the hunting is easy. When the playoffs begin with the Rockets as the No. 1 overall seed, Houston will find itself in an uncomfortable role. NBA history says this Rockets regular season should end with a Finals appearance at the minimum. A recent article suggested that this Rockets team is the best team ever. Does that get you excited or did you just get a sinking feeling in your stomach? If you’ve got trust issues I understand. Harden and Paul’s playoff past could have anyone’s knees wobbling.

I was told to never count on anything good happening to a Houston sports team until the final out was recorded or until the clock struck zero. The city is always on the verge of having something good taken away because of a last-second shot or 9th inning HR. There are expectations for the Astros and Rockets. Win the whole damn thing-type expectations. You might be excited about that or there might be a little knot in your stomach just thinking about it.

If you’re a little shook at the prospect of being the favorite it really isn’t your fault. You’ve been conditioned that way and you’re not the only one.

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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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