COMEBACK SEASON

Here's what the future could look like for Justin Verlander and the Astros

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Justin Verlander announced last week that he would undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his season, and possibly ending his career in an Astros uniform. However, is his career in Houston really done? Many people have effectively crossed him off the Astros roster for 2021, but is that really the case? Verlander will likely undergo surgery this week or next, and Tommy John is an 11-13 month recovery process depending on how the player responds. 11 months slates Verlander as a late August return, even giving him the opportunity to get a few rehab outings under his belt in the twilight of a minor league season (assuming there will be a minor league season). 12 months allows him to come back at this time next year, which means he'd build up his pitch count in simulated games before returning to game action in an Astro uniform. 13 months means...well...the Astros better be in the World Series if he is going to pitch on his current contract again.

Yes, the timeline is dicey. If he does return next season, he's returning at the most high leverage portion of the season, diving immediately into the deep end of high stress innings. However, if you're Justin Verlander, why wouldn't you do that?

Verlander is not a typical Tommy John recipient. He will be the second oldest pitcher to ever undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt to return. Jamie Moyer got Tommy John in the offseason following 2010 as a 47 year old, missed the entirety of 2011, and returned to pitch one last season in 2012. Moyer, while 10 years older than Verlander will be when he gets his surgery, was a very different pitcher. He pitched at the bottom of rotations, his fastball couldn't break a pane of glass, and he wasn't a workhorse. Verlander is a defending Cy Young Award winner who throws in the high 90s and is used to being the workhorse. Does Verlander really want to take all of 2021 off so he can get an invite to spring training somewhere and scrap for a roster spot, or does Verlander want to come back and pitch next year, prove his worth, and sign a multi-million dollar deal with a guaranteed roster spot? The answer is obviously the latter.

It doesn't take a long time to re-establish value. Rewind to July of 2017. Verlander had ugly and injury riddled seasons in 2014 and 2015 before finishing 2nd in AL Cy Young voting in 2016. It initially looked as if he had returned to his '14 and '15 form in 2017, as he carried an ERA in the low-to-mid 4.00s the entire first half of the season. His final start in the month of July was actually a win against the Astros on the 22nd, where he pitched six innings of scoreless baseball to drop his ERA from 4.50 to 4.29. The Astros famously didn't make any deals at the deadline, and Dallas Keuchel voiced his frustrations that the front office didn't make a move.

Other contenders got arms that Astros fans clamored for. The Dodgers got Yu Darvish from Texas. The Yankees got Sonny Gray from Oakland and Jaime Garcia from Minnesota. The Cubs got Jose Quintana from the White Sox earlier in the month. All of those pitchers, aside from Garcia, were more coveted arms than Verlander at the time. With the exception of one bad start against Texas, Verlander had a fantastic month of August, good enough that the Astros felt comfortable parting with two of their top 10 prospects for him at the waiver trade deadline on the last day of August. Verlander went on to pitch the best he ever has in his career, lead the Astros to a title, finish 2nd in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, win the Cy Young in 2019, and sign a two-year, $66M extension.

Two months worth of pitching changed the trajectory of Verlander's career. With his work ethic and drive, he'll push to come back as early as possible, and some magical performances in September and October would be more than enough time to change the narrative of his career again. Verlander wants to pitch into his mid-40s like Nolan Ryan did (or the aforementioned Moyer). Some might think Verlander's days on a Minute Maid mound are over, but in his mind, he'll be back next year, ready to begin the next phase of his Astros career.

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Many of the games have been hard to watch. Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

They say that breaking up is hard to do, then comes the rebuilding, and that's where the real pain happens. Last week, the 4-9 Rockets lost a tough game, 103-91, to the very average San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. That night, Ben McLemore scored 21 points, while P.J. Tucker contributed four points.

Every other point for the Rockets was scored by a player who wasn't on the team last year. That's no way to build a fan base of young people, or older people, or anybody. Because of COVID restrictions, the Rockets can sell only 3,000 tickets to games, and they're still having to offer special deals like four tickets and four drinks (soda, water, wine or beer) for $79.

The night the Rockets fell to the Spurs, DeMarcus Cousins was out with an ankle injury (surprise), John Wall was out with a sore knee (shock), and Eric Gordon sat with a lower leg injury (stunning). They were not sidelined by COVID protocol, it was age creakiness. All three are on the other side of 30. All have a history of missing games because of injuries. Danuel House also missed the game because of a bad back and COVID protocol.

The Rockets took to the floor with able-bodied Mason Jones, David Nwaba, Rodions Kurucs, Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and Christian Wood. They're nice players, for sure, they're on an NBA roster. But the NBA is a megastar-driven operation. How many of them would you recognize if they were standing behind you at Costco? The way the Rockets sign, trade and cut players, many or most of the current roster won't be around next year. Becoming a fan of a current Rocket is like falling in love with the Rug Doctor you rented for the weekend at a supermarket. It's going back Monday.

Last year, the head coach was Mike D'Antoni, the general manager was Daryl Morey. Both are established and respected figures in the league. Would you recognize the Rockets new coach Stephen Silas? Can you even name the Rockets new general manager?

And that's how you sink to 14th place in the Western Conference standings, inevitably a lottery team, the end to the Rockets' eight-year run of making the playoffs … the longest current streak in the NBA. The 2021 Rockets aren't just a lousy product, it's worse, they're a boring team. Gordon and Tucker, maybe the two most popular Rockets veterans, are rumored to be traded soon. Fans will have abandonment issues.

Maybe the Rockets should offer something stiffer than beer on "Guys Night Out" next Thursday when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Toyota Center. Good seats available.

That's not what you want to see

Did you see where the New York Mets fired their general manager Jared Porter because he sent explicit, uninvited, unanswered text messages to a female reporter?. Porter absolutely deserved to lose his job. What he did was awful and cruel. More than just losing his job, he should be committed to a home for the terminally stupid. Who does something that moronic? So unconscionable and abusive, on top of being job-killing.

But not all junk shots are meant to be hurtful – here's one that's actually funny, and totally inadvertent and innocent. Several years ago, a local sportscaster not only took a photo of his naked, anatomically correct body, he posted it on Facebook for all of his friends, indeed the world, to see. I won't name the local sportscaster because he was the victim of his own innocent lack of focus. It could have happened to anybody. Not me, thankfully, but anybody else.

Here's how it happened. The sportscaster was taking a shower, and when he emerged, he noticed his kitten curled up in the bathroom sink. Aw, isn't that cute? The sportscaster grabbed his phone and took a photo.

And posted it on Facebook. He didn't notice that, in the background of the photo, in the mirror, was his naked body. You can't say he was butt naked because it was full frontal nudity. You can't say it was a wardrobe malfunction because there was no wardrobe involved. Fortunately his wife noticed the mishap and told the sportscaster to delete the photo.

Here's the real problem, and his solid alibi. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put huge, wide mirrors in the bathroom, especially opposite the bath tub? There's a good look, you're naked, dripping wet, with patches of soap you missed rinsing off. This should be a fleeting disturbing image, not one to be preserved on film or online. Solution: don't bring your phone, or any photographic equipment, into the bathroom. We've all taken accidental photos. Nobody needs to see a photo of your disgusting body. You are not Michelangelo's statue of David. I don't let my dog watch me take a shower or any other business conducted in the bathroom. There is a reason that bathroom doors have locks. Use them.

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