Astros report

Despite shaky end to week, Astros bats return in 4-2 stretch

Jose Altuve's bat came to life. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros started the week with a day off on Monday before a two-game interleague matchup with the San Fransisco Giants, then headed to Cleveland for four more games, wrapping up their seven-game season series all in a ten-day span. Here's how things shook out:

Tuesday, May 22nd: 24-24 Giants (Andrew Suarez) vs. 30-18 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

The Astros started the week with a rout of the Giants at home on Tuesday night. The scoring started in the bottom of the third with RBIs from Max Stassi, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. They extended that lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the fifth on a two-RBI single by Tony Kemp, who continued to do well in his fill-in role in the outfield. San Fransisco trimmed the lead to 5-2 with their only two runs of the game, a two-run homer by Gerrit Cole's brother-in-law, Brandon Crawford, off of Cole himself. Despite the home run allowed, Cole still had a decent day, going six innings with just those two runs, four hits, and eight strikeouts. Houston continued to take advantage of San Fransisco's pitching, putting up three more runs in the bottom of the sixth on more RBIs from Kemp and Bregman, and one from Jose Altuve. Kemp wasn't done, getting two more RBIs in the bottom of the seventh, bringing him to five on the day and making it an 11-2 game which would be the final.
Final Score: Giants 2, Astros 11

Wed., May 23rd: 24-25 Giants (Jeff Samardzija) vs. 31-18 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Wednesday afternoon's game started out quiet, with both teams combining for just one hit through the first three innings. The Giants struck first, getting a run off of Justin Verlander in the top of the fourth to take a 1-0 lead. Houston tied it up right away in the bottom of the inning, scoring on an error to make it 1-1 before scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth, two on a home run by George Springer and one on an RBI single by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1. That score would hold through the remaining four innings thanks to Verlander completing six strong followed by scoreless innings from Will Harris, Brad Peacock, then Ken Giles with the save to finish off the quick two-game sweep. The win was Verlander's sixth on the year and the lone earned run kept his ERA at a low 1.08.
Final Score: Giants 1, Astros 4

Thu., May 24th: 32-18 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 24-23 Indians (Mike Clevinger)

Cleveland looked poised to avenge the series loss last week and give Charlie Morton his first loss of the season early in the game on Thursday night, which was a rematch of starting pitchers from May 18th. The Indians took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, and Mike Clevinger held on to that lead well, allowing just a few hits through the first four innings. Things changed in the fifth, though, with the Astros getting a couple on base setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead three-run homer to make it a 3-2 Astros lead. Houston followed that up with a huge sixth inning, going through four Cleveland pitchers including ending Clevinger's night as they scored five runs on another RBI from Alex Bregman, one for Max Stassi, and a three-run homer from none other than Jake Marisnick who was just recently brought back up to join the team while Josh Reddick moved to the DL with his leg issue. That gave the Astros a strong 8-2 lead, which they held on to with Morton finishing six innings followed by three scoreless innings from Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh. The win brought Morton to 7-0 on the season and the loss put the Indians back down to .500 on the year.
Final Score: Astros 8, Indians 2

Friday, May 25th: 33-18 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 24-24 Indians (Corey Kluber)

Similar to the night before, we had another starting pitcher rematch on Friday night, this time from May 18th with Dallas Keuchel and Corey Kluber going head-to-head again. For most of the game, it looked like it was going to be a repeat of the result from that last matchup where Kluber earned the win and Keuchel the loss as Kluber looked dominant. He held Houston scoreless in his six and one-third innings of work despite giving up seven hits and left the game with a 2-0 lead after Keuchel allowed runs to Cleveland in the third and sixth innings. Cleveland took the 2-0 lead into the eighth looking to cruise to the win, but a two-RBI double from Jose Altuve which tied the game 2-2 in the top of the eighth sparked the offense to bust the game open and score eleven runs over the eighth and ninth innings, including a three-run home run by George Springer which capped off the lopsided win.
Final Score: Astros 11, Indians 2

Sat., May 26th: 34-18 Astros (McCullers Jr.) vs. 24-25 Indians (Carlos Carrasco)

After a delayed start, the Indians took an early lead in Saturday night's game on an error by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the second inning, going up 1-0. McCullers showed some displeasure with the situation, earning him an earful from Jose Altuve as they went back to the dugout after the inning. Altuve turned that emotion right back the other way, hitting a two-run bomb to left field in the top of the third to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. Carlos Correa hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth to give the Astros their third run of the night, but they found themselves in a hole. McCullers struggled in his short start, allowing three home runs over the fourth and fifth innings to make it a disappointing seven earned-run night and gave Cleveland a 7-3 advantage. Tony Kemp trimmed the lead to 7-5 with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth, then Houston made it a one-run game with Altuve getting a triple in the top of the seventh before scoring on an RBI groundout by Correa to make it 7-6. Brad Peacock was looking strong in an extended relief appearance but allowed a home run in the bottom of the seventh to make it 8-6, and the Indians would hold that lead through the end.
Final Score: Astros 6, Indians 8

Sunday, May 27th: 34-19 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 25-25 Indians (Trevor Bauer)

It was a dramatic pitching matchup on Sunday, with UCLA alumni Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer going head-to-head, the latter of which found himself square in the crosshairs of Astros players and fans alike after suggesting on Twitter that Houston's recent pitching success could be the result of doctoring baseballs for a better spin rate. Cleveland struck first, getting a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning to go up 2-0. Max Stassi responded with a solo home run in the top of the second after an extended at-bat, trimming the lead to 1, but the Indians put the lead back at 2 in the bottom of the inning. The game remained at 3-1 for a while as both pitchers settled in, until the top of the sixth when Jose Altuve fed off of the energy of A.J. Hinch who got himself thrown out for arguing with the home plate umpire during Altuve's at-bat. Altuve followed that up with an RBI double on the very next pitch, making it 3-2 and also beating his own franchise record for consecutive hits with his ninth in a row. After giving up the three runs early, Cole finished strong, including striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh to end his start, bringing his total to 8 on the day. Bauer meanwhile came back out for the eighth and was looking to put an exclamation point to his strong day. Instead, he was finally relieved after reaching a 127 pitch count and left with two runners on, both of which came around to score after just three pitches from the Indians bullpen and put Bauer on the hook with four earned runs. Houston continued to pour it on in that inning, including a three-run home run by Evan Gattis to make it an 8-3 Astros advantage. Cleveland would not go down without a fight, getting a five-run ninth off Ken Giles and Will Harris, sending the game to extras. Gattis hit his second home run of the game to break the tie in the top of the 13th, but Cleveland tied it again in the bottom of the inning off Collin McHugh who had been doing well after pitching the night before. Brad Peacock came in to force one more inning but instead saw his first pitch go into the stands for a walk-off win for Cleveland to end Houston's week on a sour note.
Final Score (14 innings): Astros 9, Indians 10

Summary: Despite the disappointing end to the week with the extra-inning loss in Cleveland, it was still an overall strong 4-2 week for the Astros. Most notably, the offense looked strong, scoring 49 runs over the six games including two games with eleven. In addition to the normal key players coming through for the offense, they also had some timely hits from the bottom of the order with guys like Tony Kemp and Max Stassi, turning the lineup over to give the top of the order runners to work with. Despite allowing a few more runs this week than normal, the rotation anchored by Justin Verlander continues to shine and be one of the best rotations in the league. However, after seven consecutive starts of three runs or less, Lance McCullers had a terrible start on Saturday allowing seven runs. Similarly, after cleaning things up tremendously recently, the bullpen looked shaken up and ineffective in general on Sunday, blowing several leads en route to blowing the game to the Indians. Hopefully, both of those were flukes and they return back to strong performances this week. If they don't, they'll be in for a rough week with the strong opponents they have coming up. There's a lot at stake if they have a bad week too; the Astros continue to lead the AL West, but so far this year the competition in the division has looked much improved, with the Mariners just one game back and the Angels and A's still in striking distance.

MVP of the Week - Jose Altuve

Despite having a tough stretch in the middle of the week, Altuve came alive at the end of Friday night's game and rode that momentum to ten consecutive hits, breaking his own franchise record. Jose finished the week 12-for-28 for a .429 average, bringing his season average back up to .330. He notched eight RBIs, stole three bases, and now leads the league with 73 hits, putting him on pace for another 200-hit season.

This Week:

• Mon-Wed: (34-20) Astros @ (33-16) Yankees
• Thu-Sun: (36-17) Red Sox @ (34-20) Astros

This week will be a big test for the Astros, as they will have seven games against two of the best teams in the league right now. First, they'll head to the Bronx for a three-game series against the Yankees where the Astros will try to vanquish the bad memories of their last three games there, the games 3, 4, and 5 losses in the ALCS of 2017. New York also took three out of four games in Houston earlier this season. Then, Boston will head to Houston for a four-game series. Boston holds the league's best record at 36-17 and has been on fire to start their 2018 campaign. With the strength of schedule present this week, it would be a huge sign if the Astros can pull off a winning record over these seven games.

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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