How latest Astros series further confirms MLB actually got something right

The pitch clock is working, and the numbers back it up. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

I went to the Astros vs. Texas Rangers game Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. It was a tense game, right down to the final out, between the first and second place teams in the American League West.

The ballpark was packed with 40,520 fans. You could feel the tension. There was a palpable, playoff atmosphere with fans hanging on every pitch, right down to the final out with Kyle Tucker making a leaping catch to preserve the Astros victory.

Plus it was Dollar Dog Night. Don’t ever underestimate the ability of cheap processed meat to put butts in seats.

The game started on time at 7:10 p.m. and Tucker’s grab came two hours and 20 minutes later. The post-game show was still on AT&T SportsNet when I got back to my summer home in West U.

Left the house at 6:30 p.m., home before the 10 o’clock news. This is baseball in 2023 and that’s how the game should be played. It’s a faster, more exciting product with less dawdling and in-between downtime.

Thanks to new rules this year – the pitch clock, no shift and bigger bases – batting averages are up, scoring is up, and stolen bases are up.

Most important, stadium attendance is up (8 percent across MLB) and the time of games is down (28 minutes to be exact). Also, and this is significant to the game’s future, younger fans have returned to the ballpark in 2023.

Pitchers now have 15 seconds to start their delivery when bases are empty, and 20 seconds with runners on base. Hitters must be in the batter’s box before the pitch clock winds down to eight seconds. Pitchers are limited to two pickoff attempts or step-offs per batter. There is a 30-second timer between batters.

Despite some griping from players during spring training, players have adjusted to the new rules and the majority of games are played without a single infraction.

With all the benefits of shorter games and greater attendance, you’d think players would be celebrating the new rules. In the long run, it’s the players who benefit most from baseball’s resurgent popularity.

Except … nope. The executive director of the Major League Players Association says he’s hearing from players that they’d like the pitch clock slowed down for the playoffs, when baseball is on its grandest stage with the largest number of fans watching.

In other words, let’s go back to a slower game, the very thing that was causing baseball to lose fans in droves.

Or as the comic strip Pogo once put it … “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

Whatever happened to give ‘em what they want and the customer is always right? The baseball consumer clearly likes shorter games and a more exciting brand of baseball.

Does anybody want to turn the clock back to Nomar Garciaparra adjusting his batting gloves between every pitch? To Derek Jeter stepping out of the batter’s box to take practice swings between pitches? To pitchers going on leisurely strolls behind the mound or making five, six, seven pickoff attempts on the same runner? Mike Hargrove took so much time fidgeting with his gloves and uniform at bat that he was known as the “Human Rain Delay.”

Watching players tighten and re-tighten their batting gloves is like going to a classic rock concert and the singer says, “Now I’m going to do a few songs from my new album.” Stop it! Nobody wants you to do that!

There’s no need for all that adjusting and below-the-belt scratching these days. There have been great advancements in Velcro technology and Lotrimin jock itch cream is new and improved.

Fortunately, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, in a rare popular decision, says he is reluctant to change pitch clock rules for the post-season. He needs to save the game - and the players from themselves.

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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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