Here's what to expect from the Astros in 2020

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The Astros failed to fulfill their ultimate objective. They didn't choke. They lost. They were beaten. Sports happens. Again and again. In this instance most of the Major League Baseball world is happy about it. After the Astros organization's disgraceful performance through the Brandon Taubman situation, schadenfreude is one apt word for how many around baseball feel about the Astros coming up one win short of winning a second World Series in three years.

107 wins and an American League Pennant don't get flushed down the toilet because the Astros lost the World Series to one of the greatest in-season turnaround stories ever in sports. The Washington Nationals opened the season 19-31. From that point forward their record was better than the Astros. There was nothing flukey about the Nats taking it away when the Astros were so close to living up to their Take It Back slogan (though the road team winning all seven games was unprecedentedly nuts). The Nats trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of their Wild Card game vs. Milwaukee. They trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of the decisive fifth game of their Division Series at the Dodgers. Finally, they trailed by two runs in the seventh inning of World Series game seven at Minute Maid Park. The more deserving team won the World Series.

Gerrit Cole is highly likely a goner. The Astros presently project as a luxury team without Cole. Adding another 35+ mil per season to keep him seems a pipe dream. Cole may also simply prefer to go home to California. The pitching-desperate Angels are a logical direction with their stadium not even five miles from where Cole went to high school. However, the Angels can't offer perennial contention. The Dodgers can.

Cole's exit leaves the Astros 2020 projected starting rotation as 37 year old Justin Verlander, 36 year old Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers off of Tommy John surgery, Jose Urquidy off mixed results and one wonderful five inning World Series start, and who knows as number five. They figure to shop the bargain bin as with Wade Miley last offseason. The best free agent starting pitcher out there after Cole is freshly minted World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg if he opts out of the remaining four years and 100 million dollars on his Nats' deal. Zero chance the Astros would be on him. Zack Wheeler of the Mets might be next best, while nowhere close to Cole/Strasburg money the Astros would have to stretch the budget on a multiyear offer.

The bullpen faces turnover too. Will Harris gave it up in games six and seven, tainting an otherwise spectacular season. He hits free agency at 35 years old seeking a multiyear contract. The Astros owe Ryan Pressly 17 million over the next two seasons, average closer Roberto Osuna probably jumps to nine mil+ via salary arbitration or settlement beforehand, Brad Peacock roughly half that. Cheap guys like Josh James and Bryan Abreu factor in, and probably Joe Biagini. Hector Rondon and Joe Smith come off the books. Smith at a reduced salary would be worth bringing back. Chris Devenski's 2.625 million dollar option could be passed on.

The top seven batters in the Astros lineup collectively had a disappointing postseason, the offense petering out with puny two run outputs in the final two games of the season. Still, no team in MLB has a better one through seven. All will be back in 2020. That leaves Josh Reddick and catcher. Reddick is a gamer, but his level of play fell off dramatically the last two seasons and his postseason resume is lousy. The Astros would give away Reddick if they could but good luck finding a taker for the 13 million dollars on the final season of his contract. If the Astros eat half that money maybe they can move Reddick. Obviously Kyle Tucker gets a shot as the primary right fielder in 2020.

Texans, college football, and Rockets

J.J. Watt's season being done is sad, and ominous for the Texans. Their porous secondary is even more compromised with the diminished pass rush. A win over the Jaguars in London Sunday gives the Texans some margin for error at 6-3. A loss, and they're in trouble with the next three games against the Ravens, Colts, and Patriots.

Tom Herman claiming last week's UT loss to a middling TCU team is not a setback for the Longhorn program is laughable. The Horns could win out for 9-3. They're as likely to finish 7-5. That would be a weak third season of the Herman Era. LSU is pretty pleased these days that Herman used Baton Rouge as a stalking horse ahead of leaving U-of-H for Austin.

Unless you're really into the Rockets and/or love the NBA, it's tough to get into basketball with baseball just ending and football in full stride. If you missed it Wednesday with your attention rightfully focused on Astros-Nationals game seven, the Rockets scored 159 at Washington. In regulation! And won by one point!

Buzzer Beaters: 

1. The Astros open as the favorites to win the 2020 World Series. Though they probably won't. 2. Clocks back an hour tomorrow night. Put me down for Team Year Round Daylight Saving Time. 3. With "cold" weather here, best soups: Bronze-New England clam chowder Silver-Split pea Gold-Lobster bisque.

Harden drops another 50-plus game with 54

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets beat Magic 130-107

For the second straight game, James Harden put up more than 50, scoring 54 as the Rockets raced past the Magic 130-107. He now has 109 points in his last two games. For the second game in a row, he did not do much of it at the free throw line, going 6 of 6.

Russell Westbrook had another solid game with 23 points on 9 of 18 shooting.

Star of the game: Hmmm...this is a toughie. Actually, no, it's all Harden, who is playing at a terrific level. He was 10 of 15 on 3-pointers.

Key moment: The Rockets were up 94-78 when James Harden stole the ball and went the distance to score at the buzzer of the third quarter. Orlando never threatened after that.

Up next: The Rockets host the Pistons at Toyota Center tomorrow night at 8 p.m.

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