Here's what's on the line with a familiar face returning to action for Astros
Entering the weekend the Astros sit a comfy four and a half games ahead of Oakland in the American League West. Comfy does not mean home free with the Athletics having six head-to-head cracks at the Astros coming over the last week and a half of the regular season. While the A's are in Toronto for three vs. the Blue Jays this weekend the Astros are in San Diego hoping their offense emerges from the mini-coma it entered in Seattle getting shutout the last two games. Jose Urquidy makes his return to the starting rotation Friday night. Urquidy has a month to impress if he is to make a postseason start. The odds are against him. Presently, in some order Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Zack Greinke, and Luis Garcia should be Dusty Baker's starters in a best-of-five Division Series.
The Astros get a Padres team that has been staggering. The Pads were one of the darlings of the first third of the season. They roared to a 34-19 start with shortstop Fernando Tatis alongside the Angels' Shohei Ohtani as the most exciting players in the game. Recurrent shoulder problems have Tatis now primarily playing right field. Despite missing 31 games Tatis still leads the National League in home runs with 36. But over the last three weeks the Padres have been in Tom Petty mode. Freefalling. Losing 14 of their last 19 games they've seen a four and a half game lead for the second NL Wild Card spot disappear. The Padres start the weekend a half game behind the Reds for that spot.
I'm not sure if Jose Altuve got a little homer happy when he was smacking them at a tremendous rate for a while this season, but he's been a bad hitter for more than a month now. Since a monster grand slam to key a win at San Francisco July 30, Altuve has hit just .242 with a crummy .300 on base percentage and .617 OPS, with zero homers in 120 at bats.
Michael Brantley carries an AL leading .317 batting average into the weekend. Yuli Gurriel is second at .313. .317 would be the lowest AL batting champ figure since Carl Yastrzemski's .301 in 1968, the year when offense had grown so impotent that the mound was lowered five inches starting the following season.
After last weekend's limited schedule gave us a little taste to open the college football season, now for our devouring pleasure we're served a holiday weekend smorgasbord. The hands down top matchup goes off in Charlotte with third ranked Clemson a field goal favorite over fifth ranked Georgia. In two tilts of more interest to more people around here, the Houston Cougars play the Texas Tech Red Raiders at NRG Stadium, while the Steve Sarkisian head coaching era in Austin begins with a non-cupcake opener vs. Louisiana.
Dana Holgorsen starts his third season coaching UH. The first two have been major disappointments. In 2019 Holgorsen basically pulled the plug on the season midway and wound up 4-8. Last year the Coogs had to deal with multiple COVID disruptions but 3-5 is 3-5. To date that's far from the return on investment of four million dollars per season UH is seeking. Beating Tech would be a nice launch for UH, not that the Red Raiders are anything special. Matt Wells starts his third season in Lubbock. Off one good season at Utah State Wells got the Tech gig succeeding the fired Kliff Kingsbury. Wells has put 4-8 and 4-6 records on the board, in Big 12 play going 5-13. Perhaps future UH-Tech matchups become Big 12 games.
At UT, Sarkisian succeeds the fired Tom Herman hoping to begin more auspiciously than the Herman Error did (giving up 51 points in a home loss vs. Maryland). The Longhorns get Louisiana. Not LSU. Louisiana. The school prefers to not be referred to as Louisiana-Lafayette. Whatever. Last season Louisiana went 10-1 and finished 15th in the AP poll. Yes, the Rajin' Cajuns play in the much lower quality Sun Belt conference. Well, last season Louisiana opened with a 31-14 win at Iowa State. The same Cyclones who beat the Longhorns in Austin and finished number nine in the nation.
1. Texas A&M is off a boffo season in Jimbo Fisher's third at the helm and the Aggies seem positioned to be a power program. But giving Fisher a three-year extension meaning he essentially starts a 10-year 90 (NINETY) million dollar contract this year seems unnecessary and premature. Sure hope it works out better than Kevin Sumlin's extension/raises did for A&M. And Herman's at Texas for that matter.
2. Just one weekend to go before the Texans start their 20th NFL season! Let's replace the exclamation point with a period. If not a yawn.
3. Best college football fight songs: Bronze-USC "Fight On" Silver-Notre Dame "Victory March" Gold-Michigan "The Victors"