Fred Faour: Astros opening day will be something truly special

Fred Faour: Astros opening day will be something truly special
The Astros return to Minute Maid Park tonight. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Programming note:The Blitz will be broadcasting live today at 500 Crawford, right across the street from Minute Maid. Please stop by and say hello if you are in the neighborhood for the game.

Today will be a banner day -- pun intended -- for Houston sports fans. It is the home opener for the Astros, and while it is just one game out of 162, today will be special. It will be the first game at Minute Maid since the thrilling World Series win over the Dodgers. There will be other opening days. There will likely be more opening days after World Series titles. This team likely has one or two more in it if they can keep the band together.

But there will never be another opener like this one -- the first one after the first World Series win in franchise history. It will be a chance to relive the moment one last time.

It’s different, because this city has been a sports wasteland when it comes to titles. Sure, there have been Dynamo and Comets titles, and if you go back far enough (even before I was born), the Oilers won an AFL title. But even that was a secondary league at the time.

Among the big three, it’s been the Rockets winning back to back titles, and now the Astros. That’s it. There are those who claim the Rockets titles were tainted because Michael Jordan was on a hiatus, but they conveniently forget Jordan was back and playing at a high level the second title. His Bulls just weren’t good enough.

The Astros have no such false asterisks. They made their way through perhaps the three most famous franchises in baseball, and certainly the three with the biggest payrolls. They took out a solid Boston team, then knocked off the Yankees and a powerhouse Dodger team. They avoided the Indians -- perhaps the best team in the AL last season -- but then the Indians could not beat the Yankees.

So the Astros earned that title. And the scary thing? On paper, they look even better this season. The rotation will be stronger, with a full year of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Cole is the fourth starter. World Series hero Charlie Morton is the fifth starter. The bullpen looks better, too. And there is room for improvement with young hitters like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

Morton will fittingly get the ball tonight.

Yes, the Astros have already opened the season. They are 3-1 after a series in Arlington against the lowly Rangers. MLB should have let the Astros open at home. But that’s OK. Tonight will be fun. Amazing, in fact.

No opening day ever again will be as meaningful.

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Cristian Javier is in better shape this season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.

Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).

Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.

But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.

In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.

Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.

The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.

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