THE PALLILOG

Texans face uphill task in opener; plus A&M, UT, LSU and the Astros

Texans face uphill task in opener; plus A&M, UT, LSU and the Astros
Deshaun Watson . Tim Warner/Getty Images

The 18th season of Houston Texans football dawns Monday night in New Orleans. It probably begins with a loss to the Saints. While in a 16 game schedule each game matters much more than one game in an NBA or MLB season, the Texans open with somewhat of a playing with house money opportunity. The Saints open the season as the NFC Super Bowl favorite. The Texans are supposed to lose at the Superdome so it's not as if a defeat puts them behind an early eight ball. Win on the other hand, and wow.

The addition of Laremy Tunsil from the Dolphins to play left tackle is a huge upgrade to the Texans' crummy offensive line. Wide receiver Kenny Stills is a good get too. Even though the Texans grossly overpaid in dealing away their next two first round draft picks and their 2021 second rounder, the deal indisputably and significantly improves the Texans' offense for 2019.

For every yin there's supposed to be a yang. Well, trading away Jadeveon Clowney for 40 cents on the dollar was ineptitude. If Duke Johnson plays in 10 games this season the Texans give up a third rounder for him. Only getting a third rounder for Clowney displayed a fundamental failure in grasping the NFL offseason timeline, how leverage works, and how not having a real General Manager can make the Texans look silly. Bill O'Brien is obtuse if not aware that if the Texans crater this season even he could lose his job. If that happens, future high draft picks dealt away wouldn't be his problem. O'Brien can be Billy Bluster but he is not obtuse. O'Brien has harnessed too much power for his level of accomplishment. That doesn't guarantee that things can't work out. Matching last season's 11 wins is unlikely, but with Andrew Luck retired a 9-7 AFC South championship is quite possible.

Big day for college football

What a doubleheader Saturday as Texas A&M and Texas each take cracks at upsetting Tigers: the Aggies play at Clemson followed by the Longhorns home to LSU.

The Aggies are 17 ½ point underdogs. Opening against Texas State was a glorified scrimmage, so irresponsible and hence suspended A&M cornerback Debione Renfro was not missed in that game. Renfro's absence figures to hurt the Ags against the Tigers' dynamic receiving corps. Clemson has a new batch of studs in its defensive line to replace the three guys who went in the top 17 picks of the NFL Draft. How the Aggie offensive line fares against them should in large part determine whether A&M is in the game in the fourth quarter with a chance at the upset.

The Longhorns are surprisingly (to me anyway) six and a half point home underdogs. As opposed to beating an under-motivated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, beating LSU would send up a huge flare that the Horns really "are back." The Tigers may finally have a 21st century offense. UT only has three defensive starters back from last season, but that should not be a big deal. The two departees who were drafted went in the fifth and seventh rounds. If Tom Herman's recruiting classes live up to billing this unit should have more talent.

Bullpen woes

The Astros start the playoffs four weeks from today. Except for maybe the Dodgers, the Astros' chance of winning the World Series is better than everybody else. It's a phenomenal team. But the Astros' Achilles Heel is evident, it's the back end of the bullpen. That also happens to be the Dodgers' biggest question mark right now.

Manager A.J. Hinch is a sharp guy, an excellent handler of people, but of late not the greatest handler of the pen. It's no botch job a la the Texans handling of the Clowney situation, but it hasn't been outstanding. The injury loss of Ryan Pressly is a real problem, but Hinch isn't helping by continuing to robotically use Roberto Osuna in save situations.

Osuna isn't an awful closer. He darn sure isn't a great closer. That Osuna should automatically be the ninth inning guy every time the Astros lead by three or fewer runs, is silly. Thing is, Hinch knows this, having said in the past bullpen roles are flexible and that guys can be used in different situations. Hinch has fallen into "he's my closer" mentality.

Osuna started the season converting his first 12 save opportunities. Through May 23 his earned run average was 0.42. Since then, a notably larger chunk of the season, Osuna has been a closer closer to awful than great. 19 saves while blowing six chances with an ERA over 4 is not good. Hinch publicly professes to still have "complete confidence" in Osuna. It's not a problem for A.J. to say that publicly. It could be an October problem if he feels the same way privately, and manages accordingly.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If the Texans are to win 10+ games or lose 9+, put me down for the 9+. 2. When (ok, if) Serena Williams wins her 7th U.S. Open Saturday, the bookend titles will have been won in 1999 and 2019. That will be one of the great athletic greatness durability achievements ever. 3. Greatest sports Williamses: Bronze-Ricky Silver-Ted Gold-Serena

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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