Call Your Shot

Sports Illustrated cover coming to life?

George Springer has been an integral player for the Astros' rebuild. Courtesy photo

One of the most controversial Sports Illustrated covers of the last several years is from 2014 with Astros’ centerfielder, George Springer, gracing the cover. What makes this issue unique is the title predicting that the Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017. This doesn’t seem like an unusual prediction today, but in 2014, it seemed pretty ridiculous. Ben Reiter, the author of the SI article, joined Unfiltered on ESPN 97.5 this week and said that “…people hated the cover… and we got a lot of hate mail, but that turned around when they got off to a good start.”

The Astros had Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve on the 2013 team, but Carlos Correa hadn’t made his major league debut and the Astros lost 111 games that year. So predicting the Astros would eventually become a World Series Champion in 2017 after a season like that, seemed pretty unlikely. The Astros did improve in 2014 and for the first time since 2010, the team didn’t finish in last place. Flash forward to 2017 and sure enough, the Astros are in the World Series and George Springer is a big reason why.

Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander are two more reasons why the Astros had so much success this season. In fact, Keuchel made a huge impact without even picking up a baseball. Reiter said on ESPN 97.5 this week that “Keuchel going on the record trying to light a fire under the front office” was a monumental move that led to the Astros acquiring stud pitcher, Justin Verlander. The Astros even went against their typical analytics driven approach, according to Reiter, and bet it all on a 34-year-old pitcher to help lead their playoff push.

Now that the Astros were set with two dominant starters, they went to work on winning the AL pennant led by manager, A.J. Hinch. Reiter is a big proponent of Hinch and believes that “He's kind of the heart of the organization in a lot of ways, and I think they picked the perfect guy.” Hinch did a fantastic job of managing the pitching staff in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees. In a day in age where you could see seven different pitchers from each team in an elimination game, Hinch opted to go with only two pitchers, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. Hinch’s ability to balance analytics with the eye test made “Game 7 of the ALCS about as stress-free as I could imagine,” said Reiter.

Ben isn’t a sorcerer, but he’s clearly insightful and Astros fans will love that he’s sticking with his original 2017 World Series prediction. Let’s just hope that SI's, Ben Reiter, had it right all along.

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5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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