Subverting expectations may have been the Texans master plan all along

Subverting expectations may have been the Texans master plan all along
Are the Texans capable of orchestrating this? Composite image by Jack Brame.
Let's examine the pros and cons of trading Deshaun Watson

BetMGM has released its odds for the Super Bowl. Not Sunday's ultimate quarterback clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. BetMGM already is taking action on the 2022 Super Bowl. The Chiefs currently are the favorite at +600, followed by the Packers (+900), Ravens (+1200), Bills (+1200) and Buccaneers (+1200). All this will change when the quarterback trade carousel stops, though. For example, last year the Buccaneers were listed at 60-1 before Tom Brady signed with the team. Immediately the Bucs jumped to 16-1.

The Jets currently are +8000 to win the Super Bowl in 2022. That price will skyrocket like GameStop stock if the Jets acquire Deshaun Watson in a trade. Meanwhile our lovable Houston Easterbys are a lowly +8000 long, long, longshot. Trading Watson will only make the Texans a stupider bet. Save your money.

Don't you get the feeling that Cal McNair orchestrated this whole Texans mess – refusing to fire Jack Easterby the cherry on top - to force Watson into demanding a trade? He probably hoped that would make Watson out to be the villain. Sure, McNair may realize Watson's greatness … he just doesn't like the guy. Or someone in the organization doesn't like the guy.

Last men standing for Rockets

If the Rockets are listening to trade offers for P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, as reported by ESPN, that would leave only sixth man Eric Gordon and seldom-used Ben McLemore as survivors from last year's roster. Not one starter was here in 2020. And don't be surprised if Gordon is being shopped around. The only other basketball team to suffer this much turnover in one season was Mayberry Elementary School's Sixth Grade All-Stars.

The Rockets are 7-3 since shipping James Harden out, and they're back in the playoff picture. So trade away, general manager Rafael Stone.

Count me out

I love bagels. I love ice cream. But I think I'm going to hate Jeni's newest ice cream flavor: "Everything Bagel." It's "the perfect balance of sweet, salty and umani." I don't know what unami is. The upscale ice cream is packed with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onions and garlic. It sounds hideous. Note to Jeni's: I love pizza, too. Please don't get any ideas.

You, again?

Red Sox MVP Dustin Pedroia announced that he's retiring. I thought he retired five years ago.

Star power dwindling

Last week, the Athletic ran a story with the headline: "If Deshaun Watson requests a trade, Texans should make him wait."

In journalism, this is called a "standing head," meaning it runs so often that editors have it ready at a moment's notice. As in "If Harden requests a trade," and "if Watt requests a trade" and "if Westbrook requests a trade," and "if Watson, Watt, Harden, Springer, and Fuller leave, who's the biggest star left in Houston?"

What's your fantasy?

With Curt Schilling sabotaging his chances for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it's looking more and more unlikely that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez will make it to Cooperstown, let's ponder an ultimate fantasy World Series:

Hall of Famers vs. The Mean Machine of reprobates banned from the Hall or stand little chance of being inducted because of steroid use, suspected steroid use or other off-field shenanigans.

It's not a mismatch. For the right price at the sports book, I might take the bad guys. I've got the home run champ, the all-time hit king and perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time. This is like a basketball Hall of Fame without Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Bird and Magic.

Here's my lineup of banned or tainted baseball players.

First base: Rafael Palmeiro: 3,020 hits, 569 home runs.

Second base: Pete Rose: all-time record 4,256 hits, most games played, most at bats, most lots of things, mostly bad.

Shortstop: Omar Vizquel - 11 Gold Gloves.

Third base: Alex Rodriguez - 548 home runs, 3 times MVP, engaged to J-Lo.

Right field: Shoeless Joe Jackson - lifetime .356 hitter.

Center field: Barry Bonds - all-time home run champ with 762 round trippers, 7 MVP awards, big head (Hey, I mean he's egotistical).

Left field: Manny Ramirez - 548 home runs, .312 lifetime batting average, World Series MVP.

Catcher: Benito Santiago - 5 time All-Star, 3 time Gold Glove, Rookie of the Year, 4 time Silver Slugger Award.

Pitcher: Roger Clemens - all-time record 7 Cy Young Awards.

Righty designated hitter: Sammy Sosa - 609 home runs.

Lefty designated hitter: David Ortiz - 541 home runs, .286 lifetime batting average, SI Sportsman of the Year.

The NFL Hall of Fame has banned no players because good citizenship is not a criterion for induction. There is no NBA Hall of Fame, it's called the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, encompassing the NBA, international leagues, WNBA, college and amateur ball and driveway pickup games. No player has been banned from induction.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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