THE BEST AND THE WORST

Ken Hoffman bets on the Astros and crushes the worst show on TV

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Why is everybody so concerned about the Astros finishing with the best record in baseball and getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs? The goal is to win the World Series, right?

So, maybe the Astros would be better off finishing behind the Yankees in the American League, and behind the Dodgers if it comes down to a Houston-Los Angeles World Series.

First (actually second) things first, a League Championship Series against the Yankees: If the Astros finish behind the Yankees, the first two games will be played in The Bronx. We throw Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the Yanks. Good luck with that, New York. I'd take Verlander and Cole if the Astros were playing the 1927 Yankees. Nobody can match that 1-2 punch, don't care if it's on the road, at home, or on Mars.

The Astros are going to play at least two games on the road in the LCS and World Series. Their chances of winning on the road are better with Verlander and Cole.

Then it's back to Houston with a 2-0 lead. I like Zack Greinke and Wade Miley at home in Minute Maid Park. Repeat against the Dodgers. Schedule the parade.

The Wolf of Team Israel

Last week I wrote about Jeremy Wolf, the slugging outfielder from Trinity University's 2016 national D3 baseball champions, who's now playing for Israel's national team in Olympic qualifying tournaments. It's an improbable team for sure. When you think of sports in Israel, baseball isn't on top of the list. In fact, it's not on the list. There is only baseball diamond in the whole country, the team doesn't play regularly and rarely even practices together.

Last week, the team headed to Italy for the Europe/Africa final Olympic qualifier. They were a longshot against powerhouse, well financed teams from The Netherlands and Spain. Both countries have professional baseball leagues and the government pays their players. The Netherlands won the European title last year.

Of course, Israel won the whole thing, beating Spain and The Netherlands on back-to-back days, then topping Italy and South Africa. Now they'll be one of only six countries going for the gold medal in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It's the first time Israel has qualified for an Olympic team event since 1976.

Continue on CultureMap to learn about the worst show on TV ever and the MS 150.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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