As each game passes, here are the undeniable truths about the Houston Astros

Will Dusty Baker change his stance on Martin Maldonado? Composite Getty Image.

The NFL season starts this week and you know what that means here in Houston.

Are you ready for some … baseball!

The Astros are in the thick of the stickiest pennant race in MLB, a mad scramble in the American League West. At the moment, the Astros sit in a virtual tie with the Seattle Mariners for the top spot with the Texas Rangers only one game back.

The Astros 13-6, five-homer bulldozing of the Rangers Monday night in Arlington surely sent a chilling warning to other World Series hopefuls. The Astros are coming and they’re coming hard.

Things couldn’t have broke better Monday night. The Astros won. The Rangers lost. The Mariners lost. Jose Altuve and Mauricio Dubon walloped back-to-back homers – twice. Altuve and Alex Bregman had four hits each. Michael Brantley is back, seemingly without missing a beat. It would help if he were in the lineup. The Astros have Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander set for the next two against the Rangers. All is good is AstrosWorld.

The Nature Boy Ric Flair knows, if you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. And good luck beating the Astros the rest of the way.

Not only did the Astros send five balls over the outfield fence, they clinched the coveted (I kid) Silver Boot series against the Rangers for the seventh consecutive year. More important, should the Astros and Rangers tie at the end of the season, the Astros hold the tiebreaker.

The Astros have 23 games left in the 2023 regular season, including two more against the Rangers and three with the Mariners. Meanwhile the Rangers and Mariners will meet seven times to beat each other up. Knock yourselves out, literally, Rangers and Mariners.

After leaving Arlington, the Astros will sprint to the finish line with three games against the San Diego Padres, three vs. the Oakland A’s, six against the Kansas City Royals, three with the Baltimore Orioles, three showdown clashes with the Mariners, and they close out against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Astros opponents have a combined 389-459 record.

And now if you’ll permit me to beat my head against the wall.

As each game passes and the post-season draws closer, it should be clear to everybody (except one person), that Yanier Diaz must be the Astros everyday catcher regardless of who’s pitching. Let Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez throw a temper tantrum, too bad, Diaz is the Astros catcher of the future and the future started yesterday.

You don’t have to look any farther than Monday night’s biggest game of the year (until tonight’s biggest game of the year, etc.) to see the value Diaz brings to the lineup. It’s the little things and the big things.

Little thing: in the fifth inning with one out, the Astros trailing 3-0, Diaz hit a grounder that easily could have been an inning-ending, rally-squashing double play. Except Diaz has surprising speed for a catcher and beat the throw to first. That kept the Astros alive, and they scored three runs to tie the game. Another catcher, to be fair most catchers, would have been out at first by 10 feet.

Big thing: in the seventh inning Diaz blasted a 453-foot home run into the upper deck that made the score 11-5 and crushed any Rangers hope of a comeback.

Yanier Diaz is a superstar in waiting, and he may be the best hitting catcher in baseball already. In the super tight AL West, Diaz’s bat could be the difference between the Astros winning the AL West, settling for a wild card, or please no, finishing out of the money.

Now my head hurts.

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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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