Every-Thing Sports

I believe in the Astros, dammit!

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After losing Game One of the ALCS by putting a donut in the run column, a lot of Astros fans panicked. Some blamed Zack Greinke, some blamed the bats, others gave the Yankees too much credit. While they did play well enough to earn that win, there were several instances in which the Astros shot themselves in the foot. Game Two came along and fans were happy because Justin Verlander was on the mound. Verlander pitched 6 2/3 innings, only giving up two runs, and deserved to have won that game. The team won 3-2 thanks to Carlos Correa's walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, but Verlander got a no decision.

With the series tied 1-1 and headed to the Bronx for the next three games, there's still reason for optimism. Despite the poor performances at the plate by the lineup, despite the bullpen concerns, despite not having faith in anyone not named Verlander or Gerrit Cole, I still believe in this team's chances to win, dammit! And here's why:

Correa's home run was a spark

Going back to Correa's home run, I think it sparks something for this team. Moments like this can galvanize a team and start a movement. Remember back in 2017 when "Club Astros" was a thing? Remember how loose this team played? Right now, they're more the hunted than the hunters. The pressure has built up and it may be getting to them, especially given how tight they seem to be at the plate. Maybe Correa's walk-off (with the ensuing antics) are a way to light a fire underneath this team? Don't be surprised to see the dugout get more lively and/or better, more loose plate appearances.

Aaron Boone panicked

In Game Two, I think Yankee's manager Aaron Boone panicked. He pulled starter James Paxton after 2 1/3 innings pitched and proceeded to use eight more pitchers the rest of the way. A couple of those guys were/are potential Game Four starters, or they're reliable bullpen arms who were called into duty too soon. Their bullpen is better than what the Astros have, but they're tired out early in this series, advantage Astros. If Boone continues to manage scared to lose, again, advantage Astros.

Cole > Luis Severino in Game Three

Severino was quoted as saying he's not nervous about facing off against Cole in Game Three and having to outduel him (I'm paraphrasing here). He thinks that all he has to do is match what Cole does. Mind you, Severino has only pitched in three games since returning from injury. Sure he was their ace to start this season, but at 25 years old with only a handful of experience, do we really think he can hang with Cole? Answer: HELL NAH! The Astros haven't lost a Cole start since Prohibition. He's either the Cy Young winner this season, or runner-up. Cole had 326 K's this season and 25 in his two postseason starts. Good luck keeping up Luis! (sarcasm font for the humor-impaired).

Injuries

No team was hit harder by the injury bug than the Yankees this season. They had 4,672 guys on their roster miss time due to injury this season. The Astros were bit by the injury bug as well, but not as bad. That being said, I think the Yankees have a Mr. Glass feel to them. They're the more injury-prone team of the two. While they embodied the "next man up" mentality this season, the Astros did as well. The difference lies in the fact that one of their biggest bats (Giancarlo Stanton) missed Game Two because of a right quadricep strain and is day to day, while the Astros biggest injury concern this past season just won Game Two via walk-off. Again, advantage Astros.

Managerial Experience

AJ Hinch > Brett Boone. There it is. I'm done with this section. If you need further explanation, seek help elsewhere because I don't have the crayons or enough three-line kindergarten paper to explain this to you.

Bottom line here folks: while the Yankees appear to have flipped homefield advantage by winning Game One, the Astros will #TakeItBack and win at least one or two in the Bronx. I'm calling it now: Astros in six, no more than seven. This team is just too damn good and too loaded to clam up and go home like they did last year against the Red Sox. If they only win every Verlander and Cole starts in this series (or maybe squeak out another), they got this series in the bag. Like I mentioned last week, there's no need to panic. this team is fully capable of winning another World Series. Let's take it one game at a time and keep the faith.

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This time next week Jim Crane will have hired or be closing in on hiring the Astros' new manager. Who is it going to be? Considering Crane himself doesn't know yet, how the heck should I know? The candidate pool is deep in quality, four former big league skippers (none of whom have won a World Series) and at least three others who have never managed in Major League Baseball.

Dusty Baker. 70 years old. Over 22 seasons he steered four different franchises to the postseason. Tremendous people skills. I always felt his teams took on his upbeat but intense personality. Not a tactical wizard and a questionable resume re: handling of several pitchers. That's not a dealbreaker If Brent Strom is still the pitching coach.

Buck Showalter. Organized and prepared as all get out. Taken three different teams to the playoffs. More coincidence than anything else, the Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series...the season immediately after they fired Showalter.

John Gibbons. Low key personality. Two American League Championship Series trips with the Blue Jays.

Jeff Banister. LaMarque high school grad, played at UH. Back-to-Back AL West titles with the Rangers before their roster fell apart and the Astros took over the division. Also a lifetime big league batting average of 1.000. One at bat, he singled.

Any of those four would be a highly credible hire.

Those seeking experience by getting experience: Raul Ibanez, Will Venable, and Eduardo Perez. Where the Astros are, I would lean away from them. Incumbent bench coach Joe Espada is a more credentialed candidate than those three, but Espada was on A.J. Hinch's staff when the Astros are confirmed as cheaters, so can't see Crane going with him.

The experienced big league managers would command more money. That should play zero role in the choice, even though if the Astros stay largely healthy and avoid precipitous performance declines, you or I could manage their roster to 90 wins. Who is best equipped to navigate the S.S. Astros through some stormy seas bound to hit? Because, A. that's baseball, and B. they'll face some unusual stuff in their role as the lying, cheating villains of MLB. Can't know the answer to that.

Rockets fading from the spotlight

The Texans disintegrated on the field in Kansas City, the Astros' integrity turns out to have in part either disintegrated or been non-existent, leaving the Rockets among the big three to uplift the city's sports spirits over the next couple of months. Problem, relatively few seem to care. Glaring numbers of empty seats (even though sold) at Toyota Center, lower TV ratings, and a palpable lack of buzz to them. No shame in a 27-16 record, but that's not close to special and things just seem a bit stale. Dog days of midseason or larger problems?

The Rockets enter the weekend closer to the Draft Lottery than to the Western Conference leading Lakers. The Rockets are at best b-list contenders, waaaay more likely to get bounced from the playoffs in the first round than to win the West. They may be in serious trouble relative to this season's aspirations, and going forward.

Recent deep shooting slump aside, James Harden is a phenomenal offensive force, and Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. But a Harden/Westbrook backcourt headlines a non-championship caliber defense. And there just aren't good enough players around them. Harden is 30 years old, Westbrook is 31. Eric Gordon and his balky knee and erratic jumper, also 31. Over the next three seasons the Rockets are on the hook for those three guys at an average of about 106 million dollars per season.

For two straight off-seasons, the Rockets have been cheap with construction of the bench. Whatever the extent he's been following owner Tilman Fertitta's marching orders, among teams that fancy themselves contenders General Manager Daryl Morey has produced the worst bench in the NBA.

There are a bunch of teams with better overall talent, there are lottery teams with better young talent. It all adds up to the best guess being Head Coach Mike D'Antoni parts ways with the Rockets after the season. How good a job will the Rockets job be for the next coach? The answer might be, not very, in terms of pursuing an NBA championship.

While not being a big deal, it won't look good on the Rockets side if/when Chris Paul makes the All Star Game and Russell Westbrook doesn't.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you were Kelvin Sampson would you leave UH for the Rockets? 2. The Pro Bowl is Sunday! 3. Things on TV I'd watch before the Pro Bowl: Bronze-Real Housewives of Anywhere Silver-A full XFL game Gold-Three hours of test pattern

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