THE PALLILOG

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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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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