Here's why you could see something bold from the Astros in the very near future

Here's why you could see something bold from the Astros in the very near future
Will the Astros spend big on Justin Verlander? Composite image by Jack Brame.

With the holiday season upon us, the song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. On the pro sports front in Houston it’s mixed holiday tidings. The Astros continue to bring joy to the Houston sports world, their second World Series crown is a gift that will keep on giving for many around here. The Texans and Rockets are two turkeys. Two rancid foul-tasting fowls. Here’s one simple numerical way of looking at things. The Astros won four games with two losses in beating the Phillies to win the World Series. The Texans and Rockets have combined in their seasons to date for four wins and 22 losses (and one tie). Has a city ever had one of its big league teams be so great while all the others were so pathetic (if you’d like you can include the Dynamo in the dreck pile)?

Baseball’s Winter Meetings convene in less than two weeks. Does Astros’ General Manager (errrrr, lead owner) Jim Crane have a major move up his sleeve? It seems part of Crane’s professional disdain for James Click relative to Jeff Luhnow was Click’s lack of bold strikes. Upgrading at first base from Yuli Gurriel to Jose Abreu would be solid but I wouldn’t call it bold. Likewise signing or trading for a left-handed hitting centerfielder. Going to three years 125 million dollars to keep Justin Verlander would be bold.

We are Texans?

Do you know that the Astros scored more than 20 runs in a game this year as many times as the Texans have scored more than 20 points in a game? Now you do. It’s one time apiece. In an August laugher the Astros pasted the White Sox 21-5. The Texans generally get laughed at. Naturally, the Texans lone game topping 20 came in a loss, 34-24 to the Chargers. The last time the Texans scored more than 17 points in a game, Texas A&M’s season wasn’t yet a full-blown debacle. That would be October 23.

Some guys are late bloomers, others are non-bloomers. Davis Mills looks like the latter. Nick Caserio’s first draft choice (a third rounder) has shown nothing to indicate he is a quality NFL quarterback in development. He’s 13th in the NFL in pass attempts, number one in interceptions thrown. He’s 30th in the often dubious official quarterback rating, and 30th in the better methodized QBR. You walk like a duck, talk like a duck, and throw enough wounded ducks, you’re probably a dead duck in terms of upside. While the Texans’ offensive line is still too often sieve-like, it’s not as if Mills has nothing adequate around him. Running back Dameon Pierce is in the mix for best offensive rookie in the league. Brandin “Sure I happily signed a contract extension with a garbage team but now get me outta here!” Cooks and Nico Collins make up an at least decent tandem of wide receivers.

With every other team in the NFL having at least three wins and the Texans quite possibly not getting two more wins to reach three, the number one pick in the 2023 Draft is almost certainly theirs. Helllllloooo Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. The Texans almost have to go QB this spring, though the top of the 2024 QB draft class may be stronger with USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. It’s not that the Texans taking a stud defender like Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson or Georgia defensive tackle beast Jalen Carter would be a poor choice, but without a decent QB you’re nothing. Imagine if the Texans pass on Young and Stroud but next season stumble into five wins and pick fourth or fifth in the 2024 Draft. They would then be out of the mix for Williams and Maye unless paying a king’s ransom to move up.

Failure to launch

Unless I missed one in passing some time researching it, no franchise in NBA history has finished with the worst record in the league three consecutive seasons. The Rockets have a shot. They finished dead last the last two seasons and their pitiful 3-14 start this season has them back in the NBA basement. The Rockets play defense about as well as the Texans play offense. Youth isn’t an eternal excuse. The progress under Head Coach Stephen Silas has been minimal. For all of Kyrie Irving’s narcissistic BS and overall Brooklyn Nets dysfunction they still have a much better team than the Rockets. If the Nets make the playoffs, or if they miss the playoffs but don’t leapfrog the Rockets in the draft lottery, for the second time in three years the Rockets first round draft pick swap rights with the Nets acquired in the James Harden trade will be rendered worthless.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. And be reeeeeally thankful for the Houston Astros.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome