H-Town's rooting interest shifting with Astros most-hated rivals in crosshairs

Up next, the Astros play the Dodgers on Friday. Photo by Getty Images.

The Astros’ longest home stand of the season was not a good one, but not good is better than miserable. Winning the last two games from the Mets made it four wins and five losses, and certainly makes for a happier off day after finishing a stretch of 26 games in 27 days with a 13-13 record. The Astros played a level of baseball not good enough to be a playoff team. Plenty of games remain to change that, including on their other nine game home stand, which comes up in a month. That one has the Rangers, Rays, and Guardians coming to town, so the Astros better be playing better when it rolls around. Presumably having Yordan Alvarez back in the lineup will help.

Wheels up

Now it’s on the road for 10 games starting with three in Los Angeles followed by three in St. Louis then four in Arlington. A great trip would be huge but can’t make the Astros’ season. A lousy trip could break it in terms of the American League West race. The Astros sit five and a half games back of the Rangers.

The Dodgers have been scuffling themselves and trail Arizona in the National League West. The Dodgers and Astros have been on parallel tracks. The Astros won June 3 to take their record to 35-23. Since then, 6-11. The Dodgers won on June 2 to take their record to 35-23. Since then, 6-10. The Dodgers’ bullpen has been a mess in recent weeks, so the Astros getting into it as early as possible takes on added importance this weekend. The Dodger organization is always cranking out starting pitching. In the first two games, uh oh, the Astros face pitchers they’ve never seen before. Friday it’s Emmet Sheehan who made his big league debut last weekend with six no-hit innings. Saturday it’s elite prospect Bobby Miller who the rampaging Giants roughed up in his last outing, but before that Miller gave up just two runs in 23 innings over his first four starts. Sunday, nasty-stuff Tony Gonsolin is the Astros’ challenge. The Astros have J.P. France, Ronel Blanco, and Hunter Brown lined up to pitch against a Dodger lineup that while top-heavy has four hitters in it (Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez) having much better seasons than any Astro not named Yordan.

In a not common condition for them, the Cardinals stink. One of the best and proudest organizations in Major League Baseball history, a 93 win division champ last season, the Redbirds look like Deadbirds. At their current losing percentage the Cardinals are headed for their worst record since the year the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. 1919! Other than strike-shortened seasons and the sixty game 2020 COVID sprint, the Cardinals last failed to win 70 games in 1978. Approaching the halfway mark of this season they are on pace for a feeble 66-96 finish. The Astros will catch them right after the Cards return from two games against the Cubs this weekend in London.

Much more on the Astros-Rangers series next week. Ahead of the Astros arriving at Globe Life Field the Rangers spend this weekend playing three at the Yankees, then are home for four versus the lowly Tigers. So, if a diehard Astros fan, do you choke down some bile and root hard for the Yankees against the Rangers? One might say it’s rooting against the Rangers and not for the Yankees. Semantics. If the Rangers ultimately are to be the AL West’s best this year, it actually would be better for the Astros if the Rangers were to whip up on the Yankees since the Astros could be battling with the Yanks (and Orioles, and Blue Jays, and Red Sox, and Angels, and Mariners) for a Wild Card berth.

On the bright side

The only silver lining to Yordan’s extended absence is it basically left Dusty Baker no choice but to play Yainer Diaz more. Diaz has started 10 of the last 11 games, batting .286 with two doubles and four home runs yielding a .914 OPS. He has work to do learning not to swing so much (a lousy three walks in 119 at bats) but the ball explodes off the man’s bat. Now if Dusty would only come to grips with the reality that Martin Maldonado being on pace to start 118 games at catcher is ridiculous. Maldonado is as ever a very poor offensive player. With obviously better lineup options for what has been an offensively-challenged team too often this season, playing him as often as Dusty does is now managerial dereliction of duty. Defensively, Maldonado’s movement behind the plate and throwing have obviously deteriorated. For all Maldy’s wisdom behind the plate, Astros’ pitchers still have a lower earned average this season in Diaz’s starts. Diaz should be catching at least half the games, with other starts at designated hitter and occasionally first base.

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The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

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