There are plenty of reasons to watch

An exciting week ahead for the Astros

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After the disappointing 12-0 blowout loss to the Blue Jays on Father's Day to end last week, Houston will turn the page to a new one with some compelling components to look forward to in the next seven days. With a full seven-game week ahead, here are some of the things to be watching for:

The Alvarez roadshow

We are six games into the Yordan Alvarez experience, and over those six games, he has homered in four. Some of those would have been home runs nearly anywhere, but this week we will get to see how he handles leaving the confines of Minute Maid Park.

Luckily for Alvarez, both Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Yankee Stadium in New York provide a boost for left-handed hitters, especially Yankee Stadium with its short porch in right field. He'll also potentially get to face some pitchers who have been struggling with the long ball in Tyler Mahle for the Reds and J.A. Happ for the Yankees. It should shape up to be another big week at the plate for Alvarez, maintaining his at-bats as being much-watch TV.

Pitchers hitting in Cincinnati 

Houston will make their first trip to a National League park in 2019 to start the week with a three-game series with the Reds. The inter-league matchup presents the rare opportunity to see the DH-less Astros send their pitcher to the plate to try and contribute on offense.

The three pitchers we will get to see: Wade Miley, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole. Miley has a career batting average of .155 including one home run from back in 2013 with the Diamondbacks. Last year with the Brewers he hit .185 with five hits and a walk over 27 at-bats.

Cole is no stranger to the batter's box, playing the first five years of his career in the National League for Pittsburgh. He's a career .168 hitter and hit a home run in three out of his five seasons with the Pirates. However, he lost a little bit of his swing last season, going 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts for the Astros in his first season as part of his new American League team.

Then there's Justin Verlander. He has played in the AL his entire career, making him mostly a stranger at the plate. That makes it no surprise that his batting numbers aren't quite at the level of his dominant pitching numbers, hitting just .104 in his career. He has notched an RBI, though, getting the first of his career in 2017 for the Tigers before coming over to Houston.

So with that, it should be an entertaining series to start the week, and will likely make fans of the American League relish the fact that they get to have a Designated Hitter in the lineup every day.

Two starts for Verlander

While he may not be an All-Star with a bat, he's definitely on track to a lot of awards this year on the mound. Verlander is scheduled to make two starts this week, one on Tuesday night against the Reds, then another on Sunday in New York against the Yankees.

Not only does that mean two chances to see if Verlander can keep up the breakneck pace he's on in 2019, but it will also mean moving up another spot on the all-time strikeout list. At 2,831 in his career, he's just one away from tying, and two from passing, Mickey Lolich for the 19th spot on the famed list. Lolich has a connection with Justin, as he pitched thirteen seasons with the Tigers between 1963 and 1975.

Once Verlander takes over that spot, next up will be Jim Bunning who sits in 18th with 2,855 strikeouts, 24 ahead of the Astros' ace. Considering he threw 15 Ks in his last start, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could be tied or in sole possession of that 18th spot before the week is over, though to do so he'll have to have a fantastic game against a very potent Yankees lineup.

Potential pieces coming back into place

We should know more after tomorrow's game which will be a back-to-back start for the former-MVP, but the Astros are expected to have Jose Altuve rejoin the team while on this road trip. Not that the Astros have been horrid on offense without him, but having him back on the field will provide an uptick in performance, and moral.

Two other players in similar situations as Altuve and expected to come back up are Max Stassi and Collin McHugh. Stassi will likely retake his roster spot as the backup catcher, meaning Garret Stubbs will make the trip back to Round Rock. As far as McHugh, we will have to wait and see if he makes some appearances out of the bullpen to ramp things back up before going back into the rotation, or if AJ Hinch has other plans going forward.

In any case, getting some of these players back means the team is getting healthy again. George Springer has been ramping up activities, and we should hear about a rehab assignment for him soon. Carlos Correa, however, remains sidelined and the Astros should remain conservative with his recovery.

Huge weekend series in the Bronx 

After the three-game set in Cincinnati against the Reds, the Astros will travel to New York for a big four-game weekend series with the Yankees. The Yankees made a big splash in the trade market this past week, taking advantage of a liquidating Mariners team who was willing to deal Edwin Encarnacion to New York for a lone prospect player along with some cash trading. Encarnacion currently leads the American League in home runs, giving the Yankees yet another mighty bat in their lineup.

Two of the other powerful batters that are scheduled to make returns to the lineup this week: Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Both are currently on rehab stints and expected to rejoin the major-league team before this week is over. The Yankees will catch the 3-4-5-1 spots in Houston's rotation, which will be an intriguing matchup on both sides.

In any case, no matter who we see back in the lineups this weekend, it's going to be a fun and high-intensity matchup with these two teams currently both in the top four in win-loss records in the league. Also, the Yankees will likely be out to even the score after the Astros swept them in Houston in a three-game series in early April.

It sets up to be what many consider a preview of an ALDS or ALCS matchup between two of the best teams not only in the American League but the entire league.

Where will the Astros stand, both in their record and in roster spots, when this week concludes? It's hard to predict, but regardless, it should be a fun week to catch some Astros games on TV.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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