BEAT IT!

Hey Astros: keep this $@&! as far away from your team as possible!

Hey Astros: keep this $@&! as far away from your team as possible!
Fans showed up to see the Astros, not them. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

Dear Astros owner Jim Crane and everybody who’s minding the store at Houston City Hall.

Next time the Astros win the World Series, which should be next year and several years after that, let’s not invite politicians to ride down Smith Street in the team’s victory celebration.

Let’s say there were 2 million people downtown for the Astros parade. Hey, I’ll go with 2 million when it helps my point. You know how many went to the parade to watch Lt. Governor Dan Patrick flash his toothy grin from a float?

In the words of George Costanza … absolute zero!

Patrick has been accused of being tone-deaf, but even he had to hear people boo him like he was a back-and-white movie villain tying the town’s pretty librarian to the railroad tracks.

Same for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and every politician glomming off the Astros’ popularity and success. Nobody cares about you sidling up to the Astros.

Then there was Sen. Ted Cruz, smiling like he was Santa Claus at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Except people usually don’t boo, shoot the finger and hurl a full can of White Claw at St. Nick.

I watched all this and thought, don’t these politicians have a shred of self-awareness, an ounce of dignity?

We vote for you, well, at polling places that remember to stock up on ballots, to fill our potholes and fix downtown street lights when they’re flashing red in all directions, and you can’t even do that right. We do not want you riding in the Astros parade and thinking it’s all right to steal the limelight from our World Series champions.

We love the Astros. We tolerate you, and just barely. Next time a Houston team wins a title, maybe UH in this season’s Final Four, you should stay home or fly to Cancun.

I heard more jeering for Cruz at the parade than when the Iron Sheik spit on the American flag at WrestleMania.

When Hidalgo began tweeting congratulations to the Astros during their playoff run, the comments were not exactly supportive: “First game all year, huh?” “Jumping on the bandwagon?” “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

The parade crowd’s vitriol hit 11 when Cruz came into sight. The reaction to Cruz weeks ago in Yankee Stadium was brutal: “Racist!” “You piece of garbage!” “Go home you a—hole.” But that was tame to what Houston fans threw at him - in addition to that can.

Cruz has become a heel wrestler. The more people yell insults at him, the more he seems to enjoy it. Strange.

I heard someone say, “They need to lay off Ted. He’s got his daughters here with him.” Think maybe he was using his kids as props to keep the natives restful?

Wouldn’t have been the first time he used his daughters to take his heat.

Here’s some advice for Cruz and every politician who gravy-trains off popular sports teams.

Read the room.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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