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All the reasons Houston's next Jack Easterby could be working for Rockets

This doesn't look good. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston pro sports teams used to have a trio of some of the best and brightest front office minds in the three major pro sports. Darryl Morey of the Rockets, Jeff Luhnow of the Astros, and...well, two out of three ain't so bad. I mean, Rick Smith of the Texans was competent. He did some good things. Brian Gaine followed him, but he barely got the chance to do anything. Morey and Luhnow built contenders, with Luhnow bringing home a title in 2017.

The walls came crashing down on all three franchises. The Astros, Rockets, and Texans had to hit the reset button to a certain extent. The Astros hired a promising young general manager in James Click who had a history of doing good work with the Rays who were built through the draft. The Texans and Rockets however, hired guys who don't really have experience. The Texans didn't technically put Jack Easterby in charge of football operations, but he's been the assumed puppet master behind their moves. He's been an operations intern, character coach, chaplain, executive vice president of team development before being named executive vice president of football operations.

Rafael Stone has seemingly had the same ascent up the ladder that Easterby has. Stone has a political science and history degree, then got a law degree. He worked in the Rockets' legal department before being named general manager. If you listen to ESPN Houston's The Press Box, you'll know exactly how Joel Blank feels about Stone. As someone who worked in the Rockets' organization for over 20 years, Joel knows the inner workings. When someone like him feels some type of way about Stone, I tend to believe him. Besides, would you promote a lawyer to be the general manager without any background in basketball operations outside of sitting in on some meetings?

The difference between the two is that Easterby was smart enough to hire Nick Caserio to be the Texans' general manager to be in control of the roster moves and contracts. Stone is in charge of that for the Rockets himself. He was even arrogant enough to say he'd "for sure, 100 percent, do that deal again" when referring to the James Harden trade. He also said that we should wait until 2030 to judge the trade. One guy hasn't been heard from in Easterby, while the other is gloating. Both have taken unconventional paths to run their organizations. Both have been seen as at least part of the reason/problem why their franchises are in rebuild mode as of now.

One guy is smart enough to cover and insulate himself, but the other feels very cavalier about his position. They're both in top spots and shouldn't be there. They both have seemingly used backdoor tactics to attain those tops spots. I believe Easterby has staying power because of his character coach/chaplain background. Stone will most likely end up a casualty of war when the team is ready to compete again. Either that, or he'll be fired before he screws anything up too badly. These two guys have a lot in common. Unfortunately for Houston sports fans, they look like they'll be here for a while now.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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