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 O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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