Examining if Texans' latest decision is about optics or righting the ship

Texans Brandin Cooks, Tyrod Taylor, Mark Ingram
Tyrod Taylor will begin his 21-day practice window. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Texans have a 1-6 record as of this writing. They've been outscored 62-8 in their last two games. The offense is averaging a paltry 13.9 points per game. The only team worse than that is the New York Jets (13.3). Injuries and really poor play have plagued this team so far. Whether it's on offense, defense, or special teams, there have been mishaps. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil, arguably the team's best player, is out after having thumb surgery. With so much going wrong, how can the Texans possibly right the ship?

With the news of quarterback Tyrod Taylor returning from IR after suffering a hamstring injury, this could help spell the end of the futility. Taylor's status for Sunday is still up in the air, but one would assume he will return to action in the next couple of weeks, if not Sunday. Third round rookie Davis Mills has tried to step up in Taylor's place, but hasn't worked out so far. He only had 11 starts at Stanford. This was supposed to be a "redshirt" year for him as he sat behind Taylor to get acclimated to the game. Seeing as how bad things are going, could Taylor returning to the starting lineup help right the ship?

The Texans aren't just losing, they're getting blown out regularly

General manager Nick Caserio has put his stamp on this team, despite being given a less than favorable set of circumstances. While the season appears to be lost and a high draft pick is seemingly the target to help rebuild, no one wants to look this bad. Every week being an overwhelming underdog must be exhausting. This team averages losing by more than two touchdowns every week. When Caserio took over this job, he signed a number of vets to short-term contracts in order to fill out the roster and help create a culture change.

Taylor was expected to come in and model what a pro is like at the most important position on the field. He would ensure the offense ran efficiently enough to compete. His injury coincided with the offense's inability to put together consistent drives and score effectively. It's gotten so bad, that the defense has suffered. The defense was one of the bright spots for this team. They started to create turnovers and would give the offense hope by putting them in more favorable positions. But with the offense sputtering, the defense soon followed. As the glaring mistakes and missed opportunities mounted, so did the team's embarrassing losses.

If Taylor can return to practice and be cleared to play, it may give this team a shot in the arm it so desperately needs. Guys like rookie receiver Nico Collins could stand to benefit from a veteran presence at quarterback. He has a chance to be a good receiver in this league, but his growth is stunted by subpar play at quarterback. Mills got his shot to prove what he can do. While there were flashes of what he could become, the flashes weren't enough. Perhaps he can develop into something when he's surrounded by better talent. For now, Taylor is the best option at quarterback when healthy. Losing may be the goal in order to attain a higher draft pick, but looking like a team with hope while doing so is the expectation. Getting that high pick to assist with the rebuild is nice, but giving the fans hope that this team will compete every week should also be a priority.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* 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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