I'll guesstimate about 90% of you reading this have driven a vehicle before. Most of you have probably experienced a vehicle that isn't properly aligned. You're driving down the road, let go of the wheel, and it pulls to the right or left a bit. Or, you have to hold the wheel a little tilted one way or the other in order for the car to drive straight. Definite signs you need an alignment. Driving a vehicle that way will wear your tires faster and start to cause other issues.
In baseball terms, the vehicle has four wheels: owner, general manager, manager, scouting/front office. While some may say the GM and scouting/front office are technically one wheel, I'd argue that by pointing out the many times a scouting department and GM have differed on players. It happens in every sport. In order for an organization to truly move in lockstep, they must all be on the same page as far as a common goal and how to get there.
I've often felt the Astros have not always been fully aligned. Going all the way back to the Drayton McClane era, I'm trying to remember when all four tires of the Astros vehicle were perfectly aligned. Gerry Hunsicker was there for about 10 years before growing tired of Uncle Drayton's crap. McClane went through nine different managers and three GMs in his tenure as the owner from 1993-2011.
When Jim Crane bought the team after the 2011 season, he himself has already gone through six managers and three GMs so far. Now he's on the verge of hiring a seventh manager. Crane's original dream team of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch would still be the GM and manager, respectively, had the sign stealing scandal not been blown out of proportion. He hired Luhnow to come in and reshape the franchise and they burned through a few managers while the team struggled. Hinch was brought in to finish the job. He and Luhnow did that by winning the 2017 World Series and starting a dynasty.
When Crane decided to fire them both after the scandal, it left a void. Crane wasn't always pleased with the way things were run, but he was happy with the results. Enter James Click and Dusty Baker. Why Crane thought an analytics guy like Click and an old school baseball guy like Dusty would work, I'm not sure. But it did. They brought Crane the 2022 World Series title. Click was not brought back because of his philosophical differences with Crane. Dusty came back for this past season and retired. Dana Brown was brought in to replace Click. Now he and Crane are looking for another manager.
Joe Espada seems to be the simplest choice. He was Dusty's right-hand man all these years and the players seem to love him. Brad Ausmus is another candidate, but he doesn't have the qualifications, as he hasn't won or done anything significant outside being a former Astro. Craig Counsel has been mentioned as well. His .531 winning percentage in Milwaukee doesn't strike me as someone who'll get the fans excited. Others mentioned have been Buck Showalter, Rodney Linares, Mark Kotsay, and Ron Washington.
No matter who they hire, he needs to be fully aligned with the other three wheels. Every one of the wheels needs to know their lanes and operate within them. Crane needs to be the one who ensures these guys are all on the same page. He also needs to be the one to allow them to do their jobs without his interference. Personally, I'd like to see Ron Washington hired. “Uncle Ron” may be 71 years old, a few years younger than Dusty, but he's a guy players love. If not him, Espada is the clear choice, according to Ken Hoffman.
Whenever you get a new tire, you need an alignment and to balance them. This helps ensure a smooth ride. The Astros have a window that'll remain open the next couple of years at least. I'd hate for them to spend those years veering one way or the other and unnecessarily wearing out the tires. I wonder if Crane will opt for the road hazard protection warranty when he buys the new tire? Hopefully, he has run-flats, just in case.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.