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Fred Faour: Ranking Houston's 5 most likeable superstar athletes

Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt are among Houston's most likeable athletes. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

This is a golden age in Houston sports. The Rockets have more games in a season than ever before. The Astros are about to hoist their first World Series banner. The Texans finally have a franchise quarterback. The city also has a lot of likeable athletes. In John Granato’s piece last week, he mentioned James Harden’s lack of likeability among Houston’s superstars.

It begs the question: Who are the most likeable athletes in Houston? The city is littered with as many superstars as it has ever had, and most are extremely likeable. Using five categories -- play on the field, social media presence/accessibility, commercial presence/marketability, charity/community work, overall national star power. We limited the list to the big three pro sports:

5) Justin Verlander

Sure, he has only been here for a short time, but the Astros don't win the World Series without him, and with a Cy Young and MVP in his back pocket -- as well as his high profile relationship with Kate Upton -- makes him a household name nationwide. The fact that he accepted a trade to Houston in the wake of Harvey only endeared him more to Houston fans. 

4)  Chris Paul

On the court, he has been an amazing addition to the Rockets. Yes, he is a little dirty, but he also has been huge in community work in every city he has been in, his insurance commercials add to his likeability, and if he somehow helps the Rockets win a title...

3) Deshaun Watson

He was already a star after winning a national championship at Clemson, but his small sample size in Houston earned him headlines around the country. Donating a game check to Texans employees after Harvey, his personal story growing up and the fact that he just seems to be an all around good guy. If he can stay healthy in 2018, the sky is the limit.

2) Jose Altuve

MVP. Three time batting champ. World Series champ. The ultimate little guy who made it big. Altuve does not have the social media and commercial presence of the No. 1 guy on this list, and almost all of his is based solely on his play on the field. The fact that he will be here for seven more years and has spent his entire career with the Astros makes fans appreciate him even more. 

1) J.J. Watt

It’s funny; Watt tops this list, but could also make a “least likeable” list as well, because he is so overexposed. But the truth is, beyond the Harvey relief that made him the NFL’s Man of the Year, Watt is one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Houston. On the field, he is a four-time All-Pro and three time defensive player of the year. While injuries have robbed him of most of the last two seasons, even at 80 percent of what he once was he will make an impact. The No. 99 jerseys dominate the city, and Watt is a beast on social media. His “shut you down” fantasy commercials and H.E.B. locally only add to it. There are those who dislike him for all those same reasons, but Watt is a transcendent star.

Honorable mention

Carlos Correa just missed, as his charity work both in Houston and Puerto Rico after the storms really raised his profile. His is a future MVP and will climb this list fast. Dallas Keuchel is well-liked by Astros fans and has a Cy Young. DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney are close as well. 

The good news is there really aren’t enough to make a “least likeable” list. Harden would top it, and maybe Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman could make this list, but even they are just annoying, and it is hard to dislike someone who just delivered a world title. Bregman went after a fan on social media, but he is also young and has a lot to learn. Reddick is unlikeable simply for introducing the Woo. Harden's actions were well documented by Granato. 

In the end, even the unlikeable guys are pretty likeable. It's a golden age talent wise, but also in the quality of people playing the games. Houston fans have a lot to root for going forward.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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