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Evaluating the Astros at the halfway point

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Tuesday's doubleheader against the Angels represented games 30 and 31 of the shortened 60 game season, pushing the Astros past the halfway point of the year. The Astros are 17-14, which is 2nd in the AL West, 4.5 GB of the division leading Athletics. Of course, because of the expanded playoffs this season, 2nd place is good enough to get the Astros in the playoffs as a six seed. If the playoffs started today, they would square off against the Yankees.

What have the major storylines of the first half been (brawling aside)?

Injuries

This bears repeating from a previous story. Take a gander at this pitching staff.

Gerrit Cole

Justin Verlander

Wade Miley

Collin McHugh

Jose Urquidy

Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Joe Biagini, Cionel Perez

While, yes, a majority of the names on that staff are unavailable due to free agent departure, the likes of Verlander, Urquidy, Osuna, Smith, Peacock, Biagini, and Perez have all been unavailable for all of or portions of the season due to injury. Now, one could argue that the Astros would be better off with some of these guys on the IL instead, but that's a discussion for another day. The Astros staff has been ravaged by injuries, and that's just on the pitching side.

Yordan Alvarez was available for less than a week, Michael Brantley spent a stint on the IL, George Springer missed time with injury, and Alex Bregman is currently unavailable due to injury. Those guys alone would create one of the most fearsome foursomes in MLB regardless of the supporting cast. Luckily for the Astros, the rest of the supporting staff is pretty good, which is why the team has stayed afloat, but the injury bug has certainly bit the Astros.

New Faces

People say when a door closes another one opens. The exodus of talent and injury issues have provided opportunity for some youngsters to seize. Kyle Tucker has played the best baseball of his big league career over the last two weeks, Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor seem like legitimate bullpen options long term, Framber Valdez has been the Astros second best starter, and Cristian Javier has been impressive at times. All-in-all, the Astros can't be too upset with what they've gotten from their young crop of players.

Struggling Stars

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer have all stumbled out of the gates to different degrees. Springer and Altuve's batting averages add up to .400 (.207 and .193 respectively), which isn't very good. Bregman was just starting to really heat up before straining his hamstring in Colorado and hitting the IL. With Alvarez out of the lineup for the year, it's hard to take the Astros seriously as a contender without these guys posing a threat and clicking. Let's hope they can get it together sooner rather than later.

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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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