John Granato: Comparing Houston's sports teams and stars to poker chip stacks

Yes, Jose Altuve started guessed it, a short stack. But he is doing just fine now. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

On Wednesday’s show I accidently (or not so accidently) called the Skeeters the first half champions and second half chip leaders. Lance started naming our town’s sports chip leaders. I thought I might break that down a little further by category.

The Team Poker Tournament

The Astros are far and away our chip leaders. They won a bracelet last year and their good fortune has continued this year. They always seem to have an ace in their hand and come up with clutch flops all the time. They’ve had some bumps in the road. They’re shaky on the river. You never know if they can hold on even when they’ve got a big lead in a hand but even with some misplays that they would like to punch themselves in the face over, they are still clearly the team to beat.

The Rockets have a nice stack as well. They won two bracelets in the 90’s and after a long dry spell they looked like they’d win their third in dominant fashion last year. They made it to the final table and were chip leaders with just one team to beat but they couldn’t close them out. It all fell apart when they got their aces cracked. That hurt badly. After that they misfired on 27 straight pots. Instead of playing more conservatively with the lead they just kept firing away until their stack disappeared and they were left wondering if they could ever win it again.

The Texans are one of the short stacks at the table yet still one of the most popular players. They’re Phil Ivey. Everyone loves to watch them and they get all kinds of attention but they rarely ever win. They have bursts when they go on the offensive and come up with huge hands but they find a way to screw up the betting and come away with small pots. To compound the situation they broke their right hand. After that every bet looked awkward. They tried to bluff with weak hands and no one believed them leaving them with practically nothing. The hand looks like it’s healing though and when it does they could be dangerous, maybe even win a bracelet someday.

The Dynamo are also short stacked. They’ve won bracelets in five stud but look outclassed at this table. Seems like they’ve never been able to compete with the big boys here. Still they have a small but loyal chip stack that never seems to leave them. They could gain some confidence with a lot of people watching the World Cup of Poker this summer. It will always be an uphill battle though. They’d be much better off on the European or South American Poker Tours but they like it here and will continue to compete at the highest level.

The Skeeters clearly don’t belong at this table but they have a chip and a chair and that’s all they want. They are content with a seat at the table and will fight for any small pot they can win. They are by far the scrappiest team at the table. They’ve garnered a lot of respect from the other players even though they don’t have the firepower to compete for bigger pots. They’re not going away anytime soon.

The MVP table

Alex Bregman is this year’s chip leader. He’s burst onto the poker scene and in just a few short years has proven to be the most clutch player in the game. He continues to win big pot after big pot with huge unbelievable cards on the river. He doesn’t have a bracelet yet but he’s the best bet to be our next bracelet winner. The players all love him. He’s a trash talker and isn’t afraid to celebrate wins. He’s gotten into some scraps with fans on the rail talking trash but no one seems to care as long as he keeps coming up clutch he’s going to be the fan favorite.

Jose Altuve is next with a bunch of chips still in play from last year’s bracelet winning performance. He started with the shortest stack in the field. No one thought he could even get into the game but here he is with a win last year and a big stack again this year.

James Harden has the next biggest stack. He won a bracelet last year as well but his struggles on the river continue. Two years ago he folded with the best hand in a big tournament in San Antonio but he bounced back nicely from it thanks to some tips from his buddy Chris Paul. Chris left him though and James reverted back to his old ways in his last tourney and lost a tough one by misplaying his hand late after building a big chip lead. If he figures out how to play the river he’ll be a champion one day.

Justin Verlander is still up there with the best players. He’s the new guy at the table but he’s certainly not new to the game. He came over from the Detroit Poker Tour where he was by far their best player. Everyone loves what he brought to the table. He’s made everyone around him better.  

JJ Watt with his 3 bracelets is still up there among the chip leaders despite not playing a hand in what seems like years. He’s the Doyle Brunson of this group. He’s larger than life. The fans love him but his best days are behind him. Yet here he is with a bunch of chips and the biggest rooting section on the rail.

Deshaun Watson is the biggest wildcard in this field. He hasn’t been playing long but he built up a huge stack with some big hands and then nothing. As an amateur he showed that he can play with anyone finishing runner-up and then winning the college tournament. If he can stay in more hands he is almost certain to be one of the best players in the field but he’s got to prove he can do it over the long haul.

Carlos Correa has been bleeding chips lately. As a younger player he was thought to be the next sure thing but maybe expectations were too high for him. He has unbelievable talent but he sits out way too many hands. You can’t win if you keep folding and Carlos has been folding a bunch. Needs to get back in the game and show what he can do.

George Springer is coming off his first World Series bracelet winning performance but it hasn’t been going well for him lately. He’s taken some big swings at huge pots but come up empty. He can’t keep whiffing on them if he’s going to win another bracelet. The question is how much longer he’ll be at the table. Will he outlast Altuve, Correa and Bregman? There aren’t enough chips for all of them. Who’s the odd man out? We’ll soon see.

Dallas Keuchel is clearly the short stack at the table. He won a bracelet in 2015 but those days are long behind him. He’s been playing better of late but dug himself a huge hole. His problem is he doesn’t play fast enough. The other guys are catching up to his moves and stealing pots from him. He’s slow and steady though and making some nice plays lately. Don’t count him out now but this just may be his last tournament here. Odds are he’s moving on and playing in another game next year.  


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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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