MLB OPENING DAY

For openers, Astros knock off Rangers 4-1 to begin title defense

Justin Verlander was on his game in the opener in Arlington. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

A huge American flag in the outfield. Watching an amazing flyover after the national anthem. The cheer from the crowd the first time the home team takes the field, followed by the first “play ball!” of the season. Is there anything better than MLB opening day? Just one thing: a win.

The Astros started their World Series defense with a 4-1 win over the Rangers in Arlington on Thursday afternoon. They were led by a strong outing from ace Justin Verlander, who had run support thanks to RBIs from George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Jake Marisnick.

That RBI from Springer came on the third pitch in the game, getting a season-starting leadoff home run for the second year in a row, the only player in MLB history who can make that claim. The dinger made it 1-0 Astros right off the bat, a lead they extended in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from Altuve to make it 2-0.

They quickly extended their lead to 3-0 on a solo shot from Jake Marisnick in the third, and the score would stay that way deep into the game thanks to a strong first start from Verlander. Verlander went six full innings, throwing 90 pitches which resulted in only four hits for the Rangers, no runs, and five strikeouts.

Chris Devenski got his first inning of work in the seventh, a nearly perfect inning where he blanked the Rangers with two strikeouts. In the top of the eighth, Correa drove in Altuve, who scored from first on a great read on the hit paired with his amazing speed, bringing the score to 4-0 heading into the eighth.

Brad Peacock took over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, throwing a scoreless inning with one strikeout. Ken Giles looked to bounce back from a poor postseason in 2017 and start 2018 on a good note when he came in to close the game in the bottom of the ninth, but instead gave up a leadoff double to Elvis Andrus who would tag on a fly ball then score on a wild pitch to get the Rangers their first run of the game and make it 4-1. Giles eventually got the final out with a strikeout, sealing the Astros' first win of the season.

Next up: The Astros will continue the four-game series in Arlington tomorrow through Sunday before heading home for the home opener on Monday. Stay tuned to SportsMap for our weekly recaps of the Astros all season.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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