10 QUESTIONS FOR CLINT

Ken Hoffman throws 10 questions to Houston's 'most successful baseball manager'

Photo courtesy of Clint Sauls

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Not to take anything away from Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, but he's won how many World Series championships? One? That's so cute. (We kid, A.J.)

Meet Clint Sauls, the most successful baseball manager in Houston history. In 10 years as manager of the West University Seniors team (ages 15 to 16, the oldest division in Little League), Sauls has won eight state titles, six regional titles, and two World Series crowns.

And we're talking an actual global World Series, including eight international teams from places like Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Australia. West U is going for another title this week in Easley, South Carolina (Full disclosure: the first base coach for West U sleeps down the hall from me).

West U, representing the U.S. Southwest, won its opening round game on July 28, beating Wilmington, Delaware (representing U.S. East), 4-2. The team plays again 3 pm Tuesday, July 30, against undefeated Hawaii.

It's a hot ticket. Every game of the tournament is streaming live on ESPN Plus. The final game of the World Series, pitting the U.S. champs vs. the international winners, airs Saturday, August 3, on ESPN 2.

I caught up with Sauls as he was figuring out his pitching rotation for this week.

CultureMap: Why did you start coaching Little League?

Sauls: After graduating from Georgia Southern University, I got into coaching. I coached two years of high school ball as an assistant, and 2001-02 at Furman University, where I was the pitching coach and recruiting guy. I made $5,000 dollars and lived on a friend's couch.

That's when I realized I needed to make a better living, so I got into sales. I met my wife, and we came to Houston. I always missed coaching. I told her I wanted to make Houston our home and get involved in the community. What better way then Little League baseball?

CM:  People may not know, but there are six different age divisions in Little League. Why did you pick the Seniors (ages 15-16) to coach?

CS: It was the most similar to the ages I had coached prior, and West U had a rule that no parents could coach after 12-year-old division. It made sense, and I love it.

CM: When you manage a team of 15- and 16-year-old boys, are you more a baseball strategist or child psychologist?

CS: Both, I think. We only get these kids for about two months so we don't ever mess with mechanical things like swings or pitching motions. It's all strategy and learning what to do in certain situation. The other part is child psychologist.

Kids at this age can still be very emotional. I try to get to know each personality and coach to that as best we can. No one gets special treatment. It just helps to know who each kid is and how to get the most out of them.

Continue on CultureMap to read about parents brawling in the stands at Little League games.

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It wasn't inevitable, but an Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series was the most likely pairing and most anticipated matchup in the AL playoffs. We get the payoff starting Saturday night. More on it a couple of paragraphs down. But first…

Credit to the Rays for pushing the Astros the distance in the Division Series. Ultimately, more credit to the Astros for their championship caliber response with their previously mostly dormant offense exploding for four runs in the bottom of the first of Thursday night's decisive game five. That was more than enough for Gerrit Cole who was overpowering and brilliant in both his starts in the series.

There have been postseason series pitching performances that go down as greater than Cole's but only in best of seven series. For one pitcher to so dominate a best of five? The top challenger that comes to mind there victimized the Astros. In a 1998 NLDS Kevin Brown throttled them twice. In game one Brown threw eight innings of two hit 16 strikeout shutout ball, then on three days rest he pitched into the seventh inning giving up just one run. The Padres won both games 2-1. Brown gets bonus points for snuffing an Astros' 1998 offense which was tremendous, vastly superior to the Rays' offense Cole destroyed. On the other hand, Brown didn't start a game with his team facing elimination.

The clear on paper edge for the Astros over the Yankees is in starting pitching. The Rays pushing them five means neither Cole nor Justin Verlander goes in the series opener Saturday night. Zack Greinke was a disaster in his start at St. Petersburg. While it's not redemption he pitches for in game one the Astros could really use him to pitch at least decently. The Yankees are going to score runs. Their lineup is spectacularly deep, power laden top to bottom even more so than the Astros' lineup, and patient. Pitch counts in Cole's and Verlander's starts loom important. The Yankees rate the clear edge out of the bullpen, it's better and deeper.

If it is to be a seven game series, Greinke going in game one works out fine for the Astros. It's highly unlikely the Astros again use a starting pitcher on three days rest, so Greinke sets up for games one and five, Verlander for games two and six, and if the Astros have another winner takes all game coming, Gerrit Cole would start it again, at Minute Maid Park again, after he goes in game three at Yankee Stadium.

Two years ago in the ALCS between these two the home team won all seven games. That is unlikely to happen again, but a reprise of Astros in seven seems a quite viable guess/prediction. From the 1920s forward, the Yankees have gone no decade without reaching at least one World Series. The Astros can snap that near 100 years run over the next week and a half.

With the Dodgers out in the National League some will talk of Astros-Yankees as the de facto World Series. That of course is stupid. Whoever wins the NLCS between the Nationals and Cardinals will obviously be capable of winning, but the AL Champ will be the rightful favorite.

Texans can make a statement

After five games we really have no idea what to make of the 3-2 Texans. A phenomenal offensive showing against the Falcons last Sunday came just one week after a pitiful offensive showing against the Panthers the week before. The Falcons stink. The components of Texans' offense are really promising. A healthy Will Fuller not dropping balls makes him more dangerous to defenses than DeAndre Hopkins. The offensive line will probably continue its ups and downs, but starting rookie first and second round picks means the up percentage should grow as the season goes along. Overpaying in draft picks for Laremy Tunsil is problematic down the road, but he is a vast upgrade anchoring Deshaun Watson's blind side.

Excellence requires consistency. We should have a better grasp of what the 2019 Texans might be after these next two Sundays as they play at Kansas City and Indianapolis. This past Sunday night the Colts largely shutdown the Chiefs' usually sensational offense and did so with a banged up defense. Patrick Mahomes was gimpy and mortal looking. Splitting these two games would be fine, if you had your pick the Colts game should be the choice since it's a division game. If somehow the Texans win both to be 5-2, they become the lead horse in the race in the race for the second AFC first round playoff bye. Losing both is more likely than winning both.

Buzzer beaters

1. Who knows how the game will go but Texas +11 is the side to play vs. OU. 2. Lock of the weekend: Daryl Morey goes this weekend Tweet-less. 3. Greatest single series pitching performances since 1980: Bronze-Mike Scott 1986 NLCS Silver-Madison Bumgarner 2014 World Series Gold-Randy Johnson 2001 World Series

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