The Pallilog

Texans continue to underwhelm in the off season

Tashaun Gipson

An NFL's team offseason certainly is far from wholly defined by the first few days of free agency, but out of the gate the Texans certainly have underwhelmed. Armed with one of the largest war chests of cap space in the league, General Manager Brian Gaine and Head Coach Bill O'Brien have thus far combined to add zero talent to boost the Texans' very undertalented offensive line. That is weak. They are worse at safety in the exchange down from Tyrann Mathieu to Tashaun Gipson, though Bradley Roby at cornerback brings more upside than Kareem Jackson.

Tactically overpaying is sometimes a necessity, whether to retain one's own players or to add from the outside. Gaine and O'Brien talk about developing and keeping their own as the primary way to build. Well, they better improve at that. See A.J. Bouye, Brandon Brooks, and even Ben Jones. In five seasons O'Brien has yet to develop and keep an above average o-lineman.

The Texans have two more seasons of Deshaun Watson on the very cheap. J.J. Watt turns 30 next week. This is the window to step up aggressively. Fortune favors the bold. The Texans are more bland than bold. Bold does not mean reckless.

The Texans are armed with a first round pick and two second rounders. Given the mess of the offensive line and a remaining clear deficiency at corner, it is a huge fail if they can't nab at least two instant starters.

Rocket roll

Last season the Rockets had three winning streaks longer than 10 games. Their chance for a 10-gamer this season was a grand opportunity, but they weren't up to it in losing Wednesday night to Golden State. A fully healthy Rockets team on a nine game roll was significantly outplayed most of the way, at home, by the Kevin Durant-less Warriors. That essentially killed off any revived hope of the Rockets making a run at the top seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets do have a soft remaining schedule which should position them to finish third in the West, which would mean avoiding a prospective second round series vs. the two-time defending champs. DeMarcus Cousins dominating Clint Capela was especially disconcerting if thinking of a Rockets-Warriors postseason sequel.

State of college hoops

And now the college scene. The Houston Cougars are the rightful favorites to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament, but it is not a given. Their semifinal game comes against the Central Florida team that beat them at the Fertitta Center, or a Memphis team playing on its homecourt. After their second half devastation of Cincinnati Sunday to win the regular season title outright, the Coogs have a chance to take a 32-2 record into the NCAA Tournament.They are locked in to be at least a number three seed, with some possibility of a number two. The top three ACC teams (Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke) are all locks to be properly seeded above UH. Gonzaga will be a one or at worst a two. Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan State make seven teams highly likely to be ahead of UH. The committee could slot the Cougars as the lowest number two, with Florida State, Kansas State, and Purdue among other possibilities. Texas Tech badly hurt its claim of a two seed by going down in flames to last place West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament.

Speaking of down in flames, 16-16 for the Texas Longhorns. No .500 team has ever received an NCAA at-large bid and the Horns certainly don't deserve to be the first. Shaka Smart is 66-66 at Texas. If Smart didn't have roughly 13 million guaranteed dollars left on his contract he'd be a strong candidate to be fired. Five years ago when a coveted coach at VCU, Smart would have scoffed at the idea of taking the UH job. Meanwhile Kelvin Sampson stands a good chance of winning at least one National Coach of the Year award. Texas A&M fell apart this season, hence Billy Kennedy is out after eight seasons in College Station. It's understandable, but Kennedy did coach the Aggies to the Sweet 16 in two of the prior three seasons. Shaka has zero NCAA wins at UT.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Fun matchup if it's Texas Southern vs. Prairie View Saturday for the SWAC title and automatic NCAA bid. 2. Verlander and Cole mean the Astros' rotation is clearly the best in the AL West, but there is definitely cause for concern behind them. 3. Worst ex-Astro misreads of their free agent value this offseason:Bronze-Martin Maldonado. Silver-Marwin Gonzalez. Gold-Dallas Keuchel

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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