JOEL BLANK

As playoffs loom, what would be considered a success for the Astros?

For Justin Verlander and the Astros, is anything less than a title considered a failure? Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Hey Astros! It don’t mean a thing, if you don't win that ring—just ask the Rockets.  Houston set a franchise record for regular season wins and was one of the two best teams in the league. They had an MVP candidate, great veteran leadership, significant contributions from their role players and incredible coaching. Sound familiar Astros fans? The two teams mirror each other in many ways, but the Astros want to make sure there is one big difference. Unlike the Rockets, who stumbled in the playoffs and fell short of their ultimate goal, the Astros want to repeat their historic championship run.

As much as we love the ‘Stros, there’s a feeling that if the team is unable to repeat as World Series champions, it will be a huge disappointment. There is no more room for moral victories or being a hamstring away from greatness, this is a championship team—a team that brings home the hardware for their city and epitomizes being "Houston Strong." The tougher the opponent, the harder the fight and this team has fought out of some pretty deep fox holes to achieve amazing results for the team, the city, and Astros fans everywhere.

This is in no way meant to take away from the incredible regular season or to minimize the records per se. Some of the things we saw over the last six months we had never seen before, as the team made us forget about the possibility of a championship hangover and had us glued to the games to see what incredible accomplishment would be achieved next.  They won more regular season games than ever before, gave up less runs than any American League team has surrendered in a non-strike year since the designated hitter was implemented and allowed fewer runs than all but two National League teams have given up since 1974.

The starting pitching was ridiculous with Justin Verlander in the running for the Cy Young Award and Charlie Morton and Gerritt Cole joining him in the 200 strikeout club. If not for an incredible year by the Boston Red Sox, the Astros would be heavy favorites to repeat as American League Champs and get back to their second straight World Series. The team they are opening up the postseason against may be their stiffest competition in the entire playoffs.

The Cleveland Indians have the only starting rotation that can come close to matching that of the Astros, and they have added former American League MVP Josh Donaldson to an already potent lineup that features two of the top 10 players in the league in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Houston has an advantage in the bullpen as well as their defense and depth, but don't be surprised if this series goes the full five games. If it does and the Tribe comes out on top, we all will be extremely disappointed. The real question becomes, will you consider the entire season a disappointment if they fall short against the Indians? What if they advance but get knocked off by the Red Sox or Yankees? Is a runner up finish in the World Series enough for you to deem the year a success? It's OK if you answered yes to any of those questions. It's part of being a fan of a winning team that has given you a title and a trophy and a new set of expectations. Let's hope this years team brings it all home again and lets us shoot for the moon next year too!

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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