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NFL Draft expert projects shake-up for Houston Texans in 1st round

As Texans fans anxiously wait to see what Houston does with the #3 pick in the draft, NFL Draft expert Lance Zierlein tells ESPN Houston's John Granato he expects the Houston Texans to trade their pick. Watch to see who he thinks the Texans are targeting.

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Justin Verlander has been a pleasant surprise coming off Tommy John surgery. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

As baseball passes the quarter pole of the 2022 season, the Houston Astros are right where we thought they’d be - first place and overwhelming Vegas favorites to win the American League West, and holding the second-best record in the AL.

But as Jerry Garcia put it, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” This wasn’t the route baseball analysts figured for the Astros. Remember the start of the season? The Astros were returning a power-packed lineup that finished 2021’s World Series run with the top team batting average in the American League, .269. Sure, pitching might be a question mark with Justin Verlander returning from two years out with Tommy John and Lance McCullers recovering from injury.

Still the Astros figured to have enough firepower at the plate to overcome their pitching concerns. With the A’s waving a white flag on the season, the Angels likely to fade and the Mariners and Rangers headed nowhere, the rest of the Astros season is merely a formality – it’s all about getting their pitching rotation ready for the post-season and Dollar Dog Nights.

But instead of the Astros beating down opponents with offense, it’s pitching that’s propelled them to the top of the standings. Yes, he’s destined to Cooperstown, but who saw Verlander, age 39 and two years on the sidelines, at 6-1 with a crazy, shrinking 1.22 ERA. Nobody is supposed to come back from Tommy John at that age like that.

Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek, even Jake Odorizzi, are performing above expectations.

Now those awesome bashers at the plate? Let’s not pile on and exaggerate how bad they’ve been … but disappointing is putting it mildly. Historically disastrous might be closer. Let’s crunch the numbers.

Monday night the Astros batting order was: Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Pena, Jose Siri, and Martin Maldonado. You’ve got batting champs, All-Stars, an MVP, solid hitters and promising young players up and down the order.

How’s this? Every single player is hitting below his lifetime average (with the exception of rookie Pena who didn’t have a career average heading into 2022). The team batting average, .230, is 10th in the American League. That’s what you call a team slump. If anything, the Astros are not who we thought they are. It’s really a wonder they’re in first place.

Altuve is hitting 25 points below his career standard. He’s followed by Brantley (-16), Bregman (-49), Alvarez (-35), Gurriel (-67), Tucker (-29), Siri (-29), and Maldonado (-86).

That’s a collective 336 batting average points below what was expected if the Astros had just a normal year. Yeah, baseballs are kept in humidors like fine cigars this year, but the ball ain’t that dead.

Here’s an even bigger surprise, this time a happy one. Remember the citywide hand-wringing, oh what are we going to do without Carlos Correa this year? Well, rookie Jeremy Pena isn’t just sticking his finger in the dike, he’s leading the regulars with a .287 average, seven homers and 22 RBI. He’s the Astros MVP so far and has to be the leader for Rookie of the Year.

That irreplaceable guy Pena replaced? He’s batting .268 with two home runs and 14 RBI somewhere else.

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