CHARLIE PALLILO

Don't look now, but the Texans and O'Brien are in the mix for big things

Deshaun Watson has helped Bill O'Brien and the Texans. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Aside from the passing of founder and owner Bob McNair, the good times have just kept on rolling for the Texans. They should make it nine wins in a row Sunday, though Cleveland is no longer the gimme it has been for years.

Provided the Texans handle their business, Sunday’s next most significant outcome is Minnesota at New England. In a couple of weeks the Patriots play at Pittsburgh. It’s unlikely the Pats lose both, but not impossible. If they lose both the Texans have a tremendous shot at securing a playoff bye as a top two finisher in the AFC. The Steelers already have three losses and a tie (and a chance to lose to the Chargers Sunday). The Steelers have a probable loss at New Orleans yet to come. If the Texans finish 12-4 they are a near certainty to finish as at least the number three AFC seed.

So how does Bill O’Brien, NFL Coach of the Year candidate strike you? Back in preseason, certainly in mid-September, it would have struck you as ridiculous and/or hilarious. If the vote were today O’Brien would probably finish behind Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears were 5-11 last season, Nagy has them 8-3 in his first season on the job. O’Brien last season captained the titanic Texans to 4-12. Add this season’s 0-3 start to that, and the fat contact extension he was gifted in the offseason looked even more absurd. This should have been a “prove it” season for O’Brien, his fifth in the gig. He is proving it.

O’Brien has always been a commanding personality, sometimes to the point of Billy Bluster mode. Results are results so he must be given his due. The most critical component of O’Brien becoming a better coach was the drafting of Deshaun Watson, but so what? Even with the Texans’ powder puff schedule and some big breaks going their way, eight straight wins shouldn’t be scoffed away.

Have the Texans evolved into a powerhouse team? There is no strong evidence saying yes. But they are positioning themselves to get a real shot at proving themselves bonafide contenders and perhaps legit upper echelon They could also wind up exposed as the beneficiaries of their easy schedule. If that turns out to be the case, at least they’ll be better positioned going forward than at any prior point in franchise history.

The not so good

Then, there are the Rockets.

Heading into the weekend here’s the full list of teams the Rockets are ahead of in the Western Conference: Phoenix.  

If the Rockets Friday night lose to the (10-11) Spurs for the second time this season, that would be loss number 12 already. The Rockets’ 12th loss last season didn’t happen until January 15th. All they need to match last season’s 65 win brilliance is a 56-6 finish! Snowballs have much better chances in hell.

As the Mavericks beat the tar out of the Rockets Wednesday night, about all Rockets’ backers had to fall back on was, well, Chris Paul was out. Last season when Paul, James Harden, Clint Capela all played the Rockets went an amazing 44-3. This season’s Rockets have already lost three games when their version of a Big 3 all played. Paul missing a chunk of the schedule is par for the course. No reason to think he’ll get more durable in his mid-30s. That Mike D’Antoni had Paul averaging his most minutes per game in four years was not smart, but you can grasp D’Antoni’s dilemma given the punchline of a bench Daryl Morey has him coaching. The Rocket bench is abominably bad. Over his decade-plus on the job Daryl Morey has been a very good General Manager, but this past offseason he was Dismal Daryl. From Carmelo Anthony on down the line.

Saturday night the Rockets are home Saturday for the bumbling Bulls. That is an extremely unenticing matchup. Owner Tilman Fertitta sure won’t be there. Much more excitement at the University of Houston as the Cougars host Oregon in the grand opening game of the Fertitta Center. The Cougars will never be a big deal citywide, but to grow their niche a sparkling 7100 seat arena with Kelvin Sampson coaching a good team gives UH as good a shot as it can ask.

Oregon’s leading scorer is 7’2” freshman Bol Bol. Yes, Bol Bol. Son of the late 7’7” Manute.  

Still waiting

It’s been mostly quiet on the baseball free agency front. The winter meetings should accelerate things when they open in Las Vegas a week from Sunday.

Buzzer Beaters

1. How ‘bout them Cowboys? The Rams say thanks.  2. Don’t know that Texas can score enough points to beat Oklahoma a second time, but UT plus the points is the sensible pick. 3. One addition, one addition only for the Astros among the rumored available: Bronze-Goldschmidt  Silver-Realmuto Gold-Kluber

 

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Houston gets the lopsided win

Valdez, Astros dominate the Angels in 10-0 rout in Anaheim

Framber Valdez was dominant against the Angels on Monday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a series win at home over the weekend, the Astros started their final regular-season road trip on Monday, squaring off against the Angels in Anaheim. They held the momentum firmly in their favor all night, dominating both sides of the game to start the series with a victory.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 0

Astros' Record: 89-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (11-5)

Losing Pitcher: Jaime Barria (2-4)

Siri leads off with a bang

With Jose Altuve being given the night off, Houston gave Jose Siri a shot at the leadoff spot, and he delivered to start the opener in Anaheim. He launched a missile to left field, 426 feet, to put the Astros in front 1-0 before the Angels could record an out. Later that same inning, they strung together three singles, the third being an RBI by Carlos Correa to double the lead.

Valdez goes seven shutout innings

That gave Framber Valdez a lead to work with as he stepped on the rubber in the bottom of the inning, and he didn't give it up as he would post a dominant start. He started with a 1-2-3 first, worked around a couple of singles in the second, then used a double play to face the minimum in the third.

He retired Los Angeles in order again in the fourth, stranded a two-out single in the fifth and a single and a walk in the sixth. He had his worst inning of the night in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single then loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks. He'd escape the jam, though, keeping the shutout alive and finalizing his impressive line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 98 P.

Astros take the opener in lopsided fashion

Houston tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, getting a one-out double by Correa to set up an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez, pushing the lead to 3-0. Things escalated from there, as another single put two on base for Martin Maldonado, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to make it a six-run lead.

Brooks Raley took over for Valdez in the bottom of the inning, and with a 1-2-3 inning, made it his eighth appearance in a row without allowing a run. The Astros didn't let up in the top of the ninth, getting two hits and a walk to load the bases before a grand slam by Gonzalez made it 10-0 and gave him 5 RBI in a two-inning span. Seth Martinez, called up by the Astros earlier in the day, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth and closed out the lopsided win to put Houston's magic number at 6.

Up Next: The second of this four-game set will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Tuesday. Jose Urquidy (7-3, 3.38 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, going opposite Packy Naughton (0-2, 4.32 ERA) for the Angels.

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