With 3 division winners and a recent championship they should be near the top

Is Houston the top pro sports city in the nation?

Is Houston the top pro sports city in the nation?
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Astros World Seriesphoto by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's a great time to be a Houston sports fan. Sure there are always going to be teams and situations that could be better, like the Texans offensive line, but overall it could be a whole lot worse. All 3 of H-town's major sports properties are sitting pretty in their current situation. The Texans, Rockets, and Astros all currently stand as the reigning division winner in their given league and all have a legitimate shot to compete for a championship. OK, realistically two of them do and the third has the makings of a playoff team that could get to that elite status if they draft properly and make a late addition or two. Let's take a look at the squads in the space city and how they stack up with other metropolitan areas of the United States.

Jose Altuve has a 3 home run game against the Red Sox in game one of the ALDS.Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros are the easiest team on this list to talk about. All they do is win in the last few years including bringing the city its first-ever World Series title just two short years ago. The team never seems to rest on the success of the past and has loaded up and locked down key players to assure that they will be in the hunt for another title this October and be on the scene in the postseason for years to come. Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane used savvy transactions and the financial commitment necessary to keep the good players the had like George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa and then went out and made moves to get big names like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Michael Brantly.

A.J. Hinch and Roberto OsunaBob Levey/Getty Images

They also took chances and ran the risk of losing the luster on all their sparkling success by trading for a much-needed closer in Roberto Osuna who was facing serious legal issues in Toronto. They did their due diligence and plenty of homework to believe he would be cleared of all charges eventually and made the surprising and controversial trade that helped to re-shape their bullpen. Along with Ryan Pressly, another late-season trade acquisition last season, the Astros quickly turned their biggest weakness into another position of strength. Houston, you have a world class baseball team and the organization to keep it that way for years to come.

Hakeem Olajuwon playing for the Houston Rockets in 1993Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

The Rockets are a team that can never be questioned when it comes to going for it and chasing championships. When you think back on it, ever since the back-to-back championships in the mid-nineties the team has always aggressively pursued big names like Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, and Dwight Howard. It hasn't always worked out for them in terms of winning it all, but it always gave them a shot and made them a team to watch nationally.

Chris Paul and James Harden

Things are going well when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

When GM Daryl Morey traded for James Harden and later acquired Chris Paul, it assured the city that they would have one of the top teams in the NBA and a roster equipped to compete with the best in the league, mainly the Golden State Warriors. We all know that if Paul doesn't pull a hamstring last season in the Western Conference Finals we may very well be talking about another title team in our fair city. After a rough start and some missteps with the roster and replacing players lost in free agency, the team has re-tooled and most importantly is healthy heading into another playoff run. With Boogie Cousins going down for the Warriors, this could be the year that the Rockets take down the champs.

Houston Texans Bill O'BrienIt's time for a change Kirby Drive. Houston Texans/Facebook

The Texans are the lowest sitting team on the city's list of success stories but not without accomplishments along the way. If the biggest knock on your favorite football team is that it wins its division and then fades away in the postseason, it could be a lot worse. In the past five years, they have had a team that most experts gave a legitimate chance to upset the New England Patriots and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. We all know how that turned out as the Pats did what they always do when the stage is bigger and the stakes higher. Since then they have managed to win more than they have lost and done what they needed to do to win the division and at the very least, give themselves a chance to compete for a Lombardi trophy. Even last year when it looked like all hope was lost after a horrendous 0-3 start, the team manufactured nine straight wins to secure another playoff birth and the division title. In the process, they were a national story as they broke the record for most consecutive wins after losing their first three contests to start a season.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Sure it ended prematurely and in disappointment, but not without another successful year and not without providing hope that they will be back if they can improve their offensive line and defensive secondary. The draft is right around the corner and GM Brian Gaine has his hands full and a whole lot of eyes on him and his every move as the team gets prepared to defend one title and compete for another. As long as they have thier franchise quarterback thay will always have a chance.

In looking at the big picture and comparing cities across the nation in their current sporting state, there are not many metro areas that can say they are better than Houston and their 3 teams. Boston is probably the one cut and dried town that can boast better numbers and accomplishments than H-town. The Patriots are a dynasty coming off yet another Super Bowl victory, the Red Sox are the reigning World Series champs and the Celtics made the conference finals last year and are a top 4 seed in this year's playoffs. That's pretty tough to beat. Other than that, there are a whole lot of slight seconds and runners up, starting with the Bayou city. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have blatant shortcomings and can't compete. That in itself is worth celebrating. So enjoy the ride H-town, from a sporting perspective, life is good!

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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.

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