Every Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: Don't look now, but Astros season is not too far away

Jermaine Every: Don't look now, but Astros season is not too far away
The World Series champion Astros will report for spring training in just a couple weeks. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s a lot going on in sports these days. So naturally, there’s a lot going on in my head. Adult ADD isn’t so bad when you know how to control it and harness it for the sake of writing an article. So here goes…

Astros spring training draws near

The Astros are set to start defense of their World Series title. Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14, while position players report on Feb. 19. Spring Training always gets me excited for the upcoming baseball season. This season has me more pumped coming off the World Series win. General Manager Jeff Luhnow has done yeoman’s work in shaping this roster into not just a contender, but a contender for years to come. Pulling off the Gerrit Cole deal was akin to hustling the Pittsburgh Pirates at 3-Card Monte. Playing a 162-game schedule is a grind in and of itself. From their “pre-season” until the last out is recorded, a baseball season lasts about ten months. I believe the only thing standing in their way is staying relatively healthy for that journey. Speaking of the Astros…

Jose Altuve putting in extra work

MLB Network host and Houston native Robert Flores recently tweeted that A.L. MVP Jose Altuve has been at the Astros training facility for FOUR WEEKS! If you needed another reason to love this guy, there ya go. I applaud the fact that he’s gone about this without any shameless self-promoting social media posts (looking at you J.J. Watt). He simply told a media member and let the rest take care of itself. Never mind that, but the man could be resting on his recent accomplishments and taking it easy. Instead, he only took about a month off and got right back to work. He knows the big payday will come. Yet, with all the accolades in tow, he chooses to grind harder in order to stay at the top of the mountain. If only some other top athletes in this city would follow his lead, I wonder: where they could lead their teams?

G.O.A.T. talks

With the New England Patriots making yet another Super Bowl appearance, quarterback Tom Brady has been mentioned as perhaps the greatest athlete/sportsman ever, especially in comparison to Michael Jordan. Those types of arguments are great for debate, difference of opinion, generational divides, and overall discussion. However, one of the flaws I’ve noticed is the lack of inclusion of other athletes/sportsman. Roger Federer just became the first male tennis player to win 20 Grand Slam titles. No mention of him or the three women who did it before he did (Serena Willaims, Steffi Graf, or Margaret Court). What about Pelé, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, or Cristiano Ronaldo of soccer? I’m guessing baseball players like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Barry Bonds get no love either? I’m not even going to mention some of the others from sports less popular. Let’s be sure we open our minds and broaden our horizons when making these types of arguments before we eliminate reasonable competition.

The Rockets are ready to contend

The Rockets are ready to contend for the NBA title…if they can remain healthy. Do they need to add some pieces? They sure could use the extra help. Fellow Sports Map columnist Joel Blank laid out his argument for help in the form of another big man. While I agree with him, I believe this team’s biggest obstacle is health. Their record of 19-1 with James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela in the starting lineup is astonishing. At 35-13 on the season with a fairly firm grip on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, they’re currently four games back of the Golden State Warriors for the No. 1 seed and hold the tie-breaker. But that’s not enough. The Warriors are like a large corporation in a lawsuit against a very successful mom & pop operation. Sure the mom & pop operation may have a winnable case in court, but the corporation has longer money and better lawyers to outlast them and will eventually win out unless something drastic happens. Going 16-12 when their version of the Big Three is out doesn’t spell success in the postseason. Making a move is one thing, making the right move (no matter what they may look like) could make or break their chances this season.

The Texans’ blessing in disguise

The Texans’ coaching staff had the task of coaching the South team in the 2018 Senior Bowl. Going into the offseason sans a first and second round pick in the draft and a change at general manager, this came as a blessing in disguise for the Texans. Bill O’Brien and his staff got the chance to be up close and personal with a group of potential draftees, or undrafted free agents, this past week. Scouts, coaches, and front office personnel often attend these events en masse. I sincerely hope they used that time wisely and were able to pick up on more than they would have given normal access had they not been coaching in the game. This would be more beneficial given the stacked deck they’re facing when it comes to rebuilding this team on the fly, particularly this offseason, given that they’re already a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

Bonus!

-If you haven’t seen the footage of Nick Saban doing the Cupid Shuffle, it’s a must-watch.

-A New Orleans Pelicans fan sitting courtside had a brief run as a member of the team in warm-ups.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Thanks for putting up with me this long as my own attention span sometimes won’t allow me to do the same without at least three or four breaks. Remember, I’m available for rebuttal, debate, or general conversation on Twitter. Until next week, be good, or be good at it.

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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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