Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Whistle if you thought the Astros would stink this season. If you are whistling you are a liar or an extremely negative person. But you would be right about the first week of the Astros' season. They stunk.
Two wins and five losses on their season opening road trip to St. Petersburg and Arlington was lousy. At no point last season did the Astros have a stretch in which they lost five out of seven road games played. This season's 2-5 stagger from the gate was put up the old-fashioned way, they earned it.
The prime culprit is the offense, which to be kind, has sucked. Opening Day the Astros scored 5 runs in beating last year's American League Cy Young Award winner. Their run totals by game since: 2, 1, 1, 4, 2, and 0. That's 10 runs total over the last six games. Of course, only silly people would be reaching for the panic button, those who I guess think Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley are going to hit .208 all season, and Jose Altuve .222.
The Astros spent on a franchise record-high payroll coming into this season, but so far it appears they forgot to include money in the budget to buy timely hits. Over the first seven games the Astros' batting average with runners in scoring position is 95. Not .195. .095. Four hits in 42 at bats. It is impossible for that degree of ineptitude to continue for much longer.
In the American League West, thanks to the Mariners very surprising 7-1 start the Astros are already four and a half games out of first place. The last time they were that far off the lead was the end of the 2016 season. For the Astros that was a postseason-less ending.
So while it's not remotely close to being at all make or break, this first homestand against the A's and Yankees takes on a little more importance than it would have seemed to carry a week ago. But If you'd like to bet me right now that the Astros won't make the playoffs this season, name your wager level.
On college basketball
Final Four weekend features the Texas Tech Red Raiders. In a twist on hell freezing over, Tech's presence perhaps explains the temperature in the 60s forecast for Minneapolis this weekend (snow is in the forecast for midweek). Tech and Auburn are both Final Four first timers. It would be amazing for both to reach Monday night's National Championship game. Neither is supposed to get there. Auburn is an underdog to Virginia as the Cavaliers make their first Final Four trip since they lost in the semifinals to the University of Houston in 1984. Texas Tech is a very small underdog to Michigan State which Tom Izzo has taken to the Final Four for an eighth time.
McCullough High School grad Chris Beard has done beyond spectacular work in three years as Head Coach of the Red Raiders, and rightfully will win the majority of college coach of the year awards. Kelvin Sampson is close behind him this season, so Coog fans should exhale with great satisfaction that Sampson has signed a new six year contract. Seems clear the Arkansas job opening merely set some parameters for Sampson's new UH deal. He earned the leverage, which no doubt helped his son Kellen get named "Head Coach in Waiting." Hey, if you were a Dad in the same spot you'd play the leverage card too.
Rockets down the stretch
The Rockets this weekend get to enjoy crushing the two worst teams (Knicks & Suns) in the NBA and then see what the stakes are for their regular season finale Tuesday at Oklahoma City. The Rockets and Trail Blazers have 28 losses with Portland holding the tiebreaker. The Nuggets have 26 losses and hold the tiebreaker over the Blazers. So…if the Rockets win out to finish 54-28, they need Denver to split its remaining four games for the Rockets to grab the number two seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are home for the Blazers Friday night, then play at Portland Sunday and then at Utah Monday before their regular season finale at home vs. the Timberwolves. Most simply, the Rockets want the Nuggets to win their two home games and lose their two road games. Combine that happening with a Rocket win over the Thunder and the Rockets have two rounds of homecourt advantage. Regardless, the Rockets have done phenomenal work recovering from their stumblebum 11-14 start, since then going 40-14.
1. The Beard vs. The Freak: last time the NBA MVP winner didn't at least triple the runner-up in first place votes was 2008. Kobe Bryant over Chris Paul. 2. Do you already miss the AAF? 3. Teams that made surprising Final Four runs the season after losing their star: Bronze-2004 Georgia Tech (Chris Bosh) Silver-1983 Georgia (Dominique Wilkins) Gold-1984 Virginia (Ralph Sampson)
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.