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Lance Zierlein: I started an Astros Civil War

Jose Altuve continues to pile up massive numbers. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my role in starting the Great Astros Civil War of 2018. It was unintentional. I promise. I didn’t begin my Twitter comments with hate in my heart—I simply said what I thought all Astros fans were thinking. I had no idea that so many of us are not on the same page.

It started innocently enough with a graphic that was re-tweeted to me.

Of course, I took one look at that tweet and retweeted it adding the comment:

“Uh...........‘real possibility’ ??? Yeah..... it's already a thing.”

Now, it was my understanding that we were all on the same page here as Astros fans. Remember that incredible World Series win and the subsequent celebrations? Remember Altuve’s three-homer game in Boston? Remember Altuve’s MVP season and third batting crown in four years? Yeah, that didn’t really matter to some of you who are ready for a Saturday Twitter scrap.

To begin with, my first thought was “Wait…. it’s Jeff Bagwell and not Craig Biggio? I thought it was probably Biggio.” I actually tweeted that and it definitely touched off a skirmish. The sabermetric watchdogs feverishly searched BaseballReference.com to hit me with as many forms of “WAR” as they could to prove that Bagwell > Biggio. Baggy’s 1994 was astounding. As baseball historian Bill James pointed out years ago, it was one of the great offensive seasons of all time. With that said, he never reached that level again for the rest of his career.

Bagwell‘s numbers were great, but also heavy on power (in the midst of the most infamously tarnished era in baseball) and light on production when it matters most—in the playoffs. Bagwell played in 33 postseason contests with a career batting average of .226 and an OPS of .685. As a point of reference, his career average was .297 with an OPS of .948. Altuve’s best season didn’t come in his fourth year. No, his best work has come over the last two seasons with this year’s MVP season as his finest.

Oh, and about the postseason. He’s played in 24 career playoff games with a batting average of .268, but an OPS of .842 which is higher than his .816 career OPS. Did I mention he has 7 postseason home runs to Bagwell’s 2? And Altuve is getting better with each passing season. Did Bagwell ever figure out how to quiet those hands and improve his contact? No. Did Biggio ever learn to lay off the slider away? No. Altuve, on the other hand, was so disappointed in his approach to curveballs that he worked tirelessly on it in the offseason and ended up hitting over .400 against the pitch this season.

There were Bagwell vs. Biggio battles. There were Bagwell vs. Altuve arguments and there was even an Altuve vs. Joe Morgan argument made by one fan that believed that Morgan was a better Astros second baseman than Altuve *eye roll emoji*. I understand the argument that Altuve hasn’t reached the statistical achievements of Bagwell or Biggio, but that’s an apples to oranges argument since we are simply waiting for time to pass so the sample size is more even. He’s on a Pete Rose pace in terms of hits. He doesn’t have to get to 3,000 hits or 400 home runs for him to match or pass Bagwell or Biggio as the greatest Astro ever.  No. Altuve did something in the postseason that will live with Astros fans forever. Altuve as the undisputed “greatest Astro” is just a matter of time. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

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The Coogs play Miami on Friday night. Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images.

Number one seed University of Houston is favored by 7.5 points over No. 5 Miami, and No. 2 University of Texas is favored by 4 over No. 3 Xavier Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals in Kansas City.

Talk about opening acts. If both UH and UT win, they’ll meet Sunday in a good ol’ WWE-style Texas death match for a berth in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston. Thank you, Mr. Schedule Maker.

How much do you think Cougar fans would love for UH to get their hands on the Longhorns with so much at stake?

For one example, let’s go back to the future, Oct. 21, 2023, when Big 12 rivals UH and UT meet in football at TDECU Stadium on the Houston campus. The game already is a lock sellout with tickets in the upper deck commanding $141 per ticket on the secondary market. It will be UH’s first year in the big boy Big 12 and UT’s last go-around before heading to the SEC.

One last opportunity for lasting bragging rights.

That’s for a UH football game. At home. Where the Cougars typically have trouble packing half the house. For example, the Cougars will be hosting the Sam Houston Bearkats at TDECU Stadium a month earlier. Tickets for that game, the same exact seat going for $141 against UT, can be had right now … $17.

Yeah, there’s something special about UH getting the opportunity to face UT. In anything. Anywhere. And it’s been a long time since the two teams, once co-members of the Southwest Conference together, have met on the basketball court. A full decade, in fact. The last time they played was March 20, 2013 with the Cougars prevailing 73-72 in something called the College Basketball Invitational. The UH coach was James Dickey. UT was coached by Rick Barnes. Joe Young led the Cougars with 18 points. The Horns’ leading scorer was Julien Lewis with 28. UH finished that season with a 20-13 record. UT limped home at 16-18.

That was then, this is now. The UH-Miami game will air at 6:10 p.m. Friday on CBS with UH grad Jim Nantz calling the play-by-play. The game will alsO stream on Hulu +++. ESPN’s BPI (basketball power index) gives the Cougars a 90 percent chance of winning. We’ll take it.

The UT-Xavier game will follow at 8:45 p.m. on CBS. The Horns have a 70 percent chance of beating the Musketeers. If both chalks come through, they’ll meet Sunday afternoon with the game on CBS.

The Cougars have made six Final Four appearances: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2021. The Horns have made three Final Fours, the last time two decades ago.

Here’s the only sure bet if UH and UT meet Sunday - get to your sports bar early if you want a seat. This could be memorable.

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