Every-Thing Sports

Texans can build a legacy over the next three games

Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans have been around for 18 years. They've made playoff appearances and even have a couple playoff wins. Never in their history, with the exception of a couple years in the Matt Schaub era, have they been truly thought of as a serious contender. They've built a reputation as a team that's more like the bridesmaid who never gets married, but is always asked to be in another friend's wedding. Close, but never the center of attention. Always on the outside looking in. Smelling the cookies, but can't afford to buy them. You get the point.

They have a chance to change that narrative this season. More specifically, they can set themselves up nicely over the next three weeks. With games against at the Ravens and MVP candidate Lamar Jackson in a noon time must-see-tv matchup, Thursday Night Football against division rival Colts, followed by Sunday night Football against perpetual big brother in the Patriots. All three games will be paid close attention to by the national eye given the high profile nature of not only the opponents and times they play, but also because the Texans are 6-3, leading the AFC South, and have a pretty damned good quarterback of their own. But there are bigger implications at stake.

Ready for your closeup Mr. Watson?

Deshaun Watson is no stranger to the spotlight. We all know of his exploits while at Clemson, and we've all heard what his college coach thinks of him. Over the next three games, he has an opportunity to establish himself as not only an MVP candidate this season, but as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has to outplay and beat a current MVP frontrunner, division rival, and Hall of Famer to do so. The funny thing is, it's not farfetched given the immense amount of talent he has. He has enough talent around him and the ability to elevate said talent to get it done. No more excuses because stretches and opportunities like this don't present themselves too often.

Next man up

In 2010, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. They also had over 20 guys on injured reserve that year as well. No team goes through a season and wins at a high level without facing adversity. The excuse of guys being hurt is the reason for not succeeding is for losers. Every player on that roster is there because they're considered one of the best in the world at what they do. There are approximately seven billion people on this planet. Only 1,952 of them are actively on an NFL roster or practice squad (give or take some on injured reserve and other lists). While the guys on the middle to back end of the Texans' roster may not be the best, they also didn't make it this far without proving themselves capable. Lose the "we have guys injured" narrative and step up to win games.

Little brother syndrome

Over the course of their history, the Texans have had a little brother syndrome when it comes to the Colts and Patriots. The Colts have owned the AFC South and they've failed miserably at trying to be Patriots South. Both of these teams have been to and won Super Bowls since the Texans have been in the league. Both have also used the Texans as a doormat to those Super Bowls. Now is the time to start putting an end to both of those storylines. The Colts are still a good team, but they aren't the juggernaut they once were. The Patriots still seem to be the powerhouse they've always been, but also have chinks in their armor. Watson is the one piece the Texans have never had: a dynamic playmaker at the most critical position. Now is the time to punch these two older brothers in the mouth and establish a new trend.

A reason for arrogance

It's well-known that Bill O'Brien can be a prick. His smug answers and general arrogance are another reason why people feel this franchise is trying too hard to be Patriots South. He's seen as a Bill Belichek knock-off who doesn't have the skins on the wall to pull off Belichek's persona. If this team can not only win these next three games, but also begin to establish themselves as true title contenders for the foreseeable furture, O'Brien's attitude would be a lot more accepted. He seems to be more pleasent when things are going his way, so maybe he'd drop the asshole act altogether if the team is winning and contending. Whether he's a nice guy or not doesn't mean much to me, but his whole schtick would be more palatable if the Texans were making regular AFC Title game appearences.

I'm not saying this three game stretch will define this franchise for years to come. This stretch can springboard them into something bigger. Finishing this run 3-0, 9-3 overall, would give them supreme confidence as well as position them for a first round bye in the AFC playoffs. They would even have a shot at homefield advantage throughout should they finish with the same record as the Patriots. Now is when it's time for your nuts to drop and voices to deepen Texans. It's time to start shaving and wearing grown man deodorant. This is when you have to get a job and start paying bills. Growing up has to happen at some point, or you're just another bum living off your parents and more successful siblings.

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One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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