WWE Wrap-Up

Houston hosted an action-packed Raw and SmackDown Live this week

Houston hosted an action-packed Raw and SmackDown Live this week
Paige's return was the highlight of Monday Night Raw. Photo by WWE.com

This is a weekly look at the action in the WWE:

Raw

Stephanie McMahon opened the show congratulating Raw for winning the most matches at Survivor Series. She proceeded to invite her husband, Triple H, to the ring. Before he could even speak, an angry Kurt Angle raced to the ring to confront him for attacking him at Survivor Series. Kurt’s son, Jason Jordan, came out to ask his father to let him have a match against Triple H. Stephanie explained that Angle was not authorized to make that match, even though her husband is not scared of anyone on the roster. That, of course, prompted Braun Strowman to come to the ring. Triple H backed away, and McMahon explained to Jordan and Strowman that they would be facing each other later that night. “You’re a coward” chants serenaded Triple H as he made his way backstage. Samoa Joe and Finn Balor lit a fire under the Houston crowd. Balor did all he could to stay in the match, including escaping a Coquina Clutch. Joe caught Balor as he was making his way to the top rope and placed him in a second Coquina Clutch to win the match. Asuka made Dana Brooke pay for her cheap shot on last week’s Raw. Throughout the match, Asuka mocked Brooke and hit her with stiff kicks and chops. She knocked her lights out with a stiff kick to win the match.

The Miz shared a great Miz TV segment with The Shield. The crowd got really involved with this segment, making it even more entertaining. “Miz is awesome” chants filled the arena. Seth Rollins mentioned they’ve traveled around the world, and Houston was the first place ever where they heard that chant. The segment closed with Reigns issuing a challenge to Miz for his Intercontinental Championship. Dean Ambrose defeated Sheamus despite Cesaro’s efforts to spoil the match for Ambrose. Alexa Bliss came to the ring to express her displeasure for the fans who insulted her after her loss to Charlotte. Mickie James, Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Alicia Fox faced off in a Fatal Four Way to determine Bliss’ next opponent. A surprise return a year in the making occurred when Paige showed up. She didn’t come alone, though. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, formerly of NXT, joined Paige in spoiling the match.

Braun Strowman’s match with Jason Jordan was short-lived thanks to a brutal attack from Kane. The Big Red Machine used a chair and steel steps to jam Strowman’s throat. The team of Rich Swann, Tozawa, Cedric Alexander, and Mustafa Ali defeated Davari, Drew Gulak, Noam Dar, and Tony Neese.  Elias Samson’s “concert” was cut short by Matt Hardy who forced The Drifter to cower away from the ring. The Miz defended his Intercontinental Championship against Roman Reigns in the main event. Reigns was in control of the match until The Bar got involved. Ambrose and Rollins raced to the ring to even out the playing field. One spear later, Reigns sealed the Intercontinental Championship win. This meant Reigns collected his fourth championship, a wrestling grand slam.  After the show went off-air, The Shield sent fans home happy by Triple Powerbombing The Miz through the announcer table.

Highlight of the night:

Paige’s return has been speculated for weeks now.  The way it was done, though, was a genuine surprise. She’s had very weird year, and it is great to see her back in the WWE.

SmackDown Live

SmackDown Live opened with Shane McMahon thanking the blue team roster for their efforts at Survivor Series. He, then, asked Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to come down to the ring. Just when he was about to fire them, Daniel Bryan came out and persuaded McMahon to place them in a Lumberjack Match against The New Day, instead. Shelton Benjamin upset Jey Uso thanks to the distractions of his tag team partner, Chad Gable. Backstage, Ruby Riot, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan, formerly of NXT, introduced themselves to Naomi and Becky Lynch by brutally attacking them. The Bludgeon Brothers, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, finally made their TV debut in a dominating win over The Hype Bros.

The Champ that runs the camp, AJ Styles came to the ring to talk to the fans about his loss to Brock Lesnar. Before he could even speak, fans comforted him with chants. He expressed his disappointment with his loss, but explained that he had to move on to deal with Jinder Mahal. He asked Mahal to come down and take his title like he said he would. Instead, Mahal appeared via the monitor because he was not about to waste his time in Texas. The Singh Brothers attempted to surprise Styles from behind, but the champion ended up having the last laugh hitting one with The Styles Clash. Natalya invoked her rematch clause to attempt to recover the Women’s Championship from Charlotte. Riot, Morgan, and Logan returned to spoil Natalya’s rematch by attacking both her and Charlotte. The main event of SmackDown Live was the Lumberjack Match between The New Day and Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Typically, whenever one gets out of the ring in a Lumberjack Match, the lumberjacks attack them until they get back into the ring. The rule only seemed to apply for Owens and Zayn as everyone wanted to get their hands on them after what they did at Survivor Series. Of course, a brawl eventually broke out between the lumberjacks, and this distraction helped Owens and Zayn win the match. Afterwards, Owens bailed from the ring, leaving Zayn alone to suffer a beatdown from The New Day to close the show.

Highlight of the night

The introduction of Riot, Morgan, and Logan, especially how it happened, was the highlight of the night.  The SmackDown women's roster definitely needed a boost. They have it now with these additions.

How do they compare?

The post pay-per-view live shows really came with surprises for fans in Houston. Paige’s return was, without a doubt, the best one of the week. The Raw Women’s roster was already in good shape, but the addition of Paige, Rose, and Deville only bolster it. The return of Harper and Rowan is great, no matter how cheesy their gimmick may be. The most necessary addition, though, was that of Riot, Morgan, and Logan. The SmackDown Live Women’s roster was in need of new faces, now they have them. Raw gets the edge this week, not because SmackDown was not good, but because it did more to push forward and beyond Survivor Series.

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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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