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How Texans' latest roster moves could come with a silver lining

How Texans' latest roster moves could come with a silver lining
Nick Caserio has no problem moving on from players like Whitney Mercilus. Composite image by Jack Brame.
Texans General Manager Nick Caserio

You ever have a scent of something new and fresh that may seem weird to others? I've heard people say they like the smell of freshly cut grass, gasoline, burnt wood, sawdust, and even the heat from computers & their monitors. Weird? Maybe. Depends on who you ask. Everyone has their preferences. One thing we can all agree on is whenever there is a stench of something putrid enough to cause instant nausea upon the mere thought of that scent, much less actually smelling it, you'd do almost anything to get rid of it.

For a couple of years, that putrid stench off Kirby was Bill O'Brien and his lasting effect on the Texans organization. He came, he saw, he ruined everything in his path. O'Brien left behind such a strong odor, it's going to take a monumental effort to clean it up. Fortunately, it appears as if the Texans have hired the right man for the job in general manager Nick Caserio.

Caserio has no issue with cutting his loses

Caserio has presided over things on the football side since his hire. While he hasn't made anything stink as bad as the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Laremy Tunsil trade, or any of the ridiculous contracts O'Brien handed out, Caserio has had his fair share of screw-ups. For example, he went into the draft with eight picks, but only drafted five players due to trading up. He also gave Whitney Mercilus a restructured deal, only to cut him several months later in the middle of the season. He may have wet the bed a few times, but he hasn't been afraid to clean himself up and start over.

I like the fact that he's found ways to clean up his mistakes. He sent Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins for Shaq Lawson. When Lawson wanted out, he shipped him off to the Jets for a late round draft pick. I don't like the fact that he's losing on some of these deals, but I admire the fact that he's able to clean them up without much damage done. I mean, it's not like he gave a backup quarterback $37 million guaranteed, then traded him and a second round draft pick to get rid of him. Caserio has proven that he's not afraid of getting out of a bad situation if it doesn't benefit the team in the long or short term.

He has a way of playing chess and checkers at the same time. Drafting Davis Mills and Nico Collins: chess moves. Bringing in free agents like Mark Ingram and Christian Kirksey: checkers moves. One set of moves speaks to the future of the franchise by drafting two low risk/high reward rookies. The other speaks to developing a new culture immediately by bringing in two solid vets on each side of the ball that can help younger guys. While some may agree or disagree with what's being done, the thing I like the most is Caserio's ability to make moves he feels are necessary, despite what others may think.

If he can manage to turn the team's biggest asset into some formidable pieces/assets to aid in the rebuilding of this team, all his transgressions will be forgiven. All he has to do is turn a $3 billion dollar pile of dung into a winning organization. Nothing too complicated, right? He signed a six-year deal and is only one year into it. Let's see what Big Nicky can do over the next few years before we anoint him as the savior of this franchise. So far, he's done an admirable job, but I'm looking for more and better. In my book, he's on the clock.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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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