It's a Houston-Boston weekend, and the pressure should be on Bill O'Brien
Fun weekend of Houston-Boston action with the Astros at Fenway for three games plus the Texans opening their season at the Patriots. The Astros are closing in on their second straight division title but the headliner is Texans-Pats.
Head Coach Bill O’Brien did not merit the fat four year contract extension the Texans gifted him in the offseason. O’Brien did credible but far from spectacular work in going 9-7, 9-7, 9-7 his first three seasons before last year’s 4-12 debacle. O’Brien now has five more years of big salary coming. That matches the contract length of the extension Doug Pederson got in Philadelphia. Pederson was rewarded for winning the Super Bowl.
O’Brien is an offense guy. Well, in four seasons the only time his offense hasn’t been regularly offensive (to the senses) was when Deshaun Watson flashed brilliance for a month and a half last season. The Texans’ hopes ride overwhelmingly on Watson’s arm, and legs, especially his each once torn ACLs. J.J. Watt’s return is rightfully heralded, but A: it’s unlikely Watt gets back to Defensive Player of the Year level, and B: the last two times Watt was Defensive Player of the Year, the Texans went 9-7. Without Watson the Texans’ offense would again be garbage, and another season would go into the dumpster.
The most logical guess at the Texans record is probably…9 and 7. Taking that off the table, given that after their season opening road games at the Patriots and Titans, the Texans have on paper the easiest schedule in the NFL, I’ll take over 9 wins…if Deshaun Watson plays at least 14 games.
Bregman killing it
Alex Bregman just continues to go off for the Astros, and man have they needed it. Oakland charged magnificently to create a surprising American League West race, but after being tied for the lead twice, the Astros re-forging a four game lead in the loss column going into the weekend means they would have to falter to not wind up winning it.
The Astros are back on pace to make it 100 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. Last season they won 101 with Jose Altuve the American League Most Valuable Player, Carlos Correa having his own MVP level season before missing a third of the season injured, and George Springer having the best season of his career. This season Altuve has been very good but nowhere close to what he was last year. Correa and Springer are both having the worst seasons of their careers.
Bregman meanwhile has exploded to bonafide superstar stature, and is the only Astro core four guy not to spend time on the disabled list this season. Bregman isn’t the American League’s best or most valuable player this season, that’s Mookie Betts of the Red Sox. But Bregman is now arguably top three, certainly top six.
Bregman is playing at such a spectacular level that Kate Upton’s friends are probably now asking her to set THEM up with HIM.
A.J. Hinch has interesting pitching decisions to sort through ahead of the postseason. There is no good reason to carry more than 11 pitchers for a best of five series (or best of seven) that would have two off days should it go the distance. There is zero chance of needing five starters, so that’s a seven man bullpen. Five definites are Roberto Osuna, Hector Rondon, Collin McHugh, Ryan Pressly, and Tony Sipp. Brad Peacock would seem pretty certain as number six. That leaves one spot. Chris Devenski? Better show something the next three weeks. If Devo is a no-no maybe Framber Valdez as a second lefty? Whither Lance McCullers? No spot for Will Harris. Even if the Astros unnecessarily go with 12 pitchers, a couple of familiar names must be left off.
Over the last couple months Dallas Keuchel is the Astros best starter, but Justin Verlander certainly will get the ace call for game one. Keuchel or Gerrit Cole in game two? Is Charlie Morton a game four starter? Should the Astros be down 2-1, Verlander on short rest in game four with the game two starter then on full rest if there’s a game five?
It would be ironic if Tom Herman’s tenure at Texas turned out to be all hat, no cattle. He coaches Longhorns after all. It’s one mediocre season plus one game, so any “Fire him now!” ranting is absurd. But losing to Maryland in the opener for the second year in a row? Lame if not necessarily ominous. UT should have it easy with Tulsa but a four game gantlet follows: #17 USC, #16 TCU, at Kansas State, #6 Oklahoma. 1-5 is certainly possible.
1. A&M-Clemson is roughly a billion times more interesting than UT-Tulsa 2. Burt Reynolds and the original The Longest Yard, excellent. The Adam Sandler remake, awful. 3. Best live college mascots: Bronze-Ralphie (Colorado) Silver-Traveler (USC) Gold-UGA (Georgia)