How Dusty Baker's next moves will shape Houston Astros postseason campaign


Now that the Houston Astros have won the AL West once again, we can reflect on how they were able to snatch the division from the Rangers, and try to replicate that success in the playoffs.

Down the stretch, Justin Verlander pitched like classic Verlander, with 4 good performances out of 5. Which allowed the Astros to achieve their divisional goal once again. With no start bigger than his domination of the Mariners in Seattle with the season on the line.

Based on which pitcher played the best down the stretch, we believe Justin Verlander will get the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS this Saturday. Framber Valdez certainly deserves consideration, but he hasn't pitched as well as JV recently.

But if the Astros have interest in pitching Framber on three days rest during the series, starting him in Game 1 would be the way to go. He would then pitch Game 4 and Verlander could pitch Game 2 and Game 5 on normal rest.

If Dusty Baker opts to use 4 starters in the series, it will be interesting to see if he goes back to Jose Urquidy after his impressive performance against Arizona, or if JP France will get the nod. We assume Cristian Javier is a lock to pitch Game 3.

The other big question for the Astros involves the bullpen. Bryan Abreu has been fantastic this year, and Ryan Pressly has had some struggles. Would Baker change his closer for the postseason?

We doubt Dusty will make a change when the playoffs begin, but it will be fascinating to see how Abreu is deployed moving forward. And clearly Hector Neris is Dusty's “cleaner” of sorts, meaning when guys are on base, and you need someone to shut the door, Neris is the guy for the job.

Which brought up a fascinating discussion. Baker has said in the past that he likes to bring in relievers like Rafael Montero earlier in the game. His logic being if Montero gives up some runs, there's still plenty of time to come back and win. But will Baker operate the same way in the postseason, or is that just something he likes to do during a long regular season?

If a starter gets into trouble in the middle innings, we'd like to see Neris come in and limit the damage and ideally maintain the lead. Even it that means he won't be available to pitch in the 7th or 8th inning.

We just saw Montero come in for Javier in the 4th inning with 2 outs against Seattle, and we know what happened. He gave up some many runs that the game was effectively over after his appearance. And he didn't even record a single out.

Finally, we discuss if the Astros will carry a third catcher on the playoff roster. This would allow Dusty to have more options if he feels he needs to pinch hit when the situation dictates it.

Fearing an injury to his starting catcher, Dusty was reluctant to use Christian Vazquez as a DH in the playoffs until Game 6 of the World Series last year. By then, a third catcher was added to the roster after Yuli Gurriel injured his knee. Yainer Diaz could be in the same boat this season.

One thing we know for sure, the Twins are coming to Minute Maid on Saturday.

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How Texans' CJ Stroud got the last laugh on Panthers entire organization

When Bryce Young and CJ Stroud were drafted with the first two picks of the NFL Draft, we knew they would be compared to one another for years to come.

And here we are just 11 games into the season and one quarterback has already seen his head coach fired. Panthers owner David Tepper spoke to the media on Wednesday and discussed his decision to fire Frank Reich, and also set the record straight on how they arrived at the decision to draft Young.

In so many words, Tepper basically blamed the Texans for how the top of the draft played out. He mentioned Stroud by name and said the Panthers were ready to draft him at No. 2 overall until the Texans backed out of the three-team trade with the Bears.

Tepper made a point of saying everyone in their building had Bryce Young as the top player on their draft board, despite rumors about Frank Reich preferring Stroud.

CJ Stroud and the Texans have been so much better than Bryce Young and the Panthers that Tepper clearly felt it was necessary to defend himself, and the decisions he's made for the organization.

In the end, the person that gets the worst end of the deal is Bryce Young. Coaching changes can be very difficult on young quarterbacks. And it looks like he'll have to learn a new offense in his second year when the Panthers hire a new coaching staff.

How fortunate we are as Texans fans to have DeMeco Ryans and CJ Stroud leading the team moving forward.

With all of this in mind, is there a reason Texans fans haven't fully bought in to the new-look Texans? JJ Watt was a guest on The Pat McAfee Show this week and was asked about the team's inability to fill the stadium on Sundays.

As a former player for the Colts, McAfee always thought Houston had the loudest and best fans in the NFL. And while the Texans are 9th in attendance this year according to ESPN, even CJ Stroud has asked for the fans to fill the stadium.

So there is something to it. You can see the empty seats in photos. So why aren't the Texans packing NRG with a shiny new franchise QB?

We believe the recent history of the team is why fans are slowly coming back. McAfee wasn't here for:

Bill O'Brien cussing at fans during games

Trading DeAndre Hopkins away for next to nothing

The Jack Easterby disaster

Deshaun Watson allegedly blaming ownership for why he wanted out

The Deshaun Watson scandal

Firing back-to-back coaches after one season, and the list goes on.

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