THE PALLILOG

Sports return in less than two weeks, and Justin Verlander looks great

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As sports fans we're in the midst of a big game of "hold your breath." We're less than two weeks from the start of a truncated Major League Baseball season, inside three weeks from the resumption of a trimmed down NBA season, and as this posts two months to the day from the scheduled start of the NFL regular season. They'll all likely get going. College football, shakier. What is the likelihood of successful finishes? Major League Soccer resumed play this week in a so-called bubble in Orlando, and already two teams have been eliminated before ever playing because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests. In the spirit of hope let's address the locals preparing for play.

Not saying I'm desperate for MLB (yes I am!), but with no sound via the Astros' Twitter feed I watched about three innings of the Astros Thursday intrasquad scrimmage, their first scrimmage since regathering at Minute Maid Park. Worked for me. While Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer (twice) might disagree, it was great to watch Justin Verlander strike out all of them. With no coronavirus Verlander would have missed the first two months of the season recovering from injuries. A healthy Verlander for the full 60 game sprint season obviously greatly enhances the Astros' chances of getting back to the postseason, regardless of how anyone values the season.

You can watch the highlights from Verlander's performance below.

How the 2020 MLB season plays out is a very open question. Nevertheless, having to plan ahead MLB Thursday released the 2021 regular season schedule. Opening Day, April Fool's Day! The Astros are slated to be in Oakland.

Rocket launch

The Rockets settle at Disney World for a second training camp ahead of starting the eight game finish to the regular season. General Manager Daryl Morey has asserted that the Rockets "should win this thing," this thing being the NBA championship. As assertions go that is ridiculous. They certainly belong in the second tier of contenders behind the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. That does not translate to "should win this thing." Given the variables of top seeds no longer having homecourt advantage, players choosing to not play because of COVID concerns, players who get sidelined by COVID, and the Rockets having a good team, of course they have a shot. That is much different from "should win this thing." Getting a look at "Slim Jim" Harden will be interesting. He's reportedly trimmed down 15 to 20 pounds. How will Harden's game be impacted at each end of the court?

Big deal coming for Deshaun?

The Texans are slated to gather for training camp in a couple weeks to begin the run up to their season opener at Kansas City. The talk of the NFL this week was Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting about 140 million dollars guaranteed as part of his whopping 10 year 450 million dollar contract extension. Among those delighted for Mahomes is Texans' quarterback Deshaun Watson. Mahomes was the 10th pick in the 2017 draft, Watson went two selections later. Mahomes has obviously been much better in his two seasons as a starter winning an NFL Most Valuable Player Award and the following season leading KC to its first Super Bowl win in 50 years. Still, the Mahomes deal sets some parameters for what Watson can command from the Texans.

There has been scuttlebutt about Watson preferring a shorter term extension. If so that would clearly indicate uncertainty about believing in the long term potential for consistent legitimate Super Bowl contention for the franchise. That's reasonable since the Texans have never been a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Watson is under contract for this coming season and 2021. If necessary the Texans could then easily use the franchise tag on him for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, but hammering out an extension makes sense for both parties. Even though no deal would not mean Watson could leave any time soon, it would be a bad look for the Texans. Watson has avoided calamitous injuries the last two seasons but given his ACL history securing generational wealth in one form or another makes sense. So, there are two positive viable outcomes. In a shorter extension Watson would have to get basically all the money guaranteed, say, three years 115 million dollars. Or in a longer extension even more money guaranteed at a sub-Mahomes level, say, 7 years 275 million? Teams should not be compelled to match questionable to stupid deals other teams commit to, but in Watson's case there would seem no way he takes less than the nearly 108 million guaranteed dollars the Eagles gave Carson Wentz in his extension or the 110 million the Rams laughably lavished upon Jared Goff.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. How come hand sanitizer is now easily found, but not wipes?

2. UFC "Fight Island" seems impressively constructed, I'm just not into it.

3. Biggest losses if non-conference college football games are wiped out for 2020: Bronze-Ohio St. at Oregon Silver-Clemson at Notre Dame Gold-Texas at LSU

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The Texans didn't have an answer for Derrick Henry. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Romeo Crennel made a valorous call that might have costed the Houston Texans from winning their second consecutive game on Sunday. Up by seven with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, Crennel decided to call a two-point conversion following Deshaun Watson's one-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

During the two-point conversion, Watson had a look at an open Randall Cobb, but Titans' defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons got a hand on the ball to deflect the pass. The failed conversion allowed the Titans to take a 42-36 victory over the Texans inside Nissan Stadium. Tennessee scored 13 unanswered points, which included a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown to send the game into overtime.

"I think I would do it again," Crennel said during his media availability on Monday. "You are on the road against a divisional opponent who is undefeated, and if you could get that two-point conversion — you shut the door on them. We had a guy open, but unfortunately, the ball got tipped and we did not make it. I would do it again because it was a good choice."

The decision to not kick the field goal caused somewhat of an uproar, but it is understandable why Crennel made the call. Crennel had faith in Watson to put the Texans in a position to close the game, similar to his 4th-and-4 call during last week's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In the end, Crennel's risky decisions could stem from the lack of faith he has in the Texans' depleted defense.

Houston's defense hit an all-time low against the Titans. They gave up a franchise-worst 601 total yards — with Derrick Henry accounting for 212 yards on 22 carries. But despite their struggles against the run, the Texans' secondary were just as faulty. They gave up a total of 338 yards through the air and allowed Tannehill to go 8-for-9 down the field during the Titans' final drive of regulation.

Had Houston's defense made a stop during the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the Texans could have ended the game 2-0 under their interim head coach.

"I wanted to go ahead and get the two points — I felt like that would have put the game out of reach for them," Crennel said. "If we had gotten it, we would have been in much better shape. But we did not get it. We did not perform well in overtime, and they [Titans] won the game."

Following Sunday's heartbreaking loss, Texans safety Justin Reid said it best, "Had we converted on the two-point conversion, this would be a totally different conversation. So it is what it is."

Up next, the 1-5 Texans will look to bounce back from defeat against the 4-1 Green Bay Packers, inside NRG Stadium on Sunday. Kick-off is at 12:00 PM CT.

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