CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans find unusual path to 5-3 record

The Texans are doing very well. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

So after blowing out the Dolphins Thursday night, at the midpoint of their schedule the Texans are 5-3 and in command of the AFC South. At season’s outset I picked them as a 10- win team provided Deshaun Watson stayed healthy. Well they are halfway there, though I certainly didn’t forecast an 0-3 start followed by five straight wins. Exactly nobody foresaw that. Credit to the Texans taking advantage of a soft schedule, a couple of breaks handed to them, and the unraveling of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Life is funny sometimes. If Brock Osweiler had been mediocre in his one Texans season instead of a complete mess of a free agent signing, the Texans would have stuck with him and all his guaranteed money for at least one more year. That would have made it highly unlikely the Texans make their 2017 Draft move up to draft Watson. Given a choice, a majority of NFL teams would opt for Patrick Mahomes over Watson. Mahomes has the bigger arm, and the no-ACL tears history. But these two guys, taken two spots apart in the draft and born three days apart, have a chance to be a near Peyton Manning-Tom Brady AFC quarterback pairing for the next decade-plus.

Up next the Texans face another of their ex-QBs when they face Case Keenum at Denver. If the Texans win that game and/or win at Washington after their open week it will be hard for them to not win their division.

Raise the roof

It will forever be lame that the Texans continue to keep the NRG Stadium roof closed when conditions are excellent for open-air football. The stadium is not markedly louder when the roof is closed. It’s a fabric roof not a hard dome. They wasted about 50 million dollars on the retractable roof.  They should at least admit the boondoggle if not make an equal donation to worthy causes. Firemen raises? New computers for HISD schools? 50 million dollars of free parking at NRG Stadium events?

Time to worry?

If you are a Rockets’ fan, no it is not too early for you to be concerned. Not panicked or resigned, but concerned. Of course, if James Harden’s ailing hamstring turns out to be a recurrent or lingering issue, PANIC AWAY! A 1-3 start is nothing catastrophic, but it’s a bad start with troubling early signs that suggest this Rockets’ team will not come close to matching the franchise record of 65 wins set last year. If everything went right for the Rockets winning 65 again would be unlikely.

Daryl Morey is too sharp to not know this, hence his continued pursuit of Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler beyond the fact that Butler is a top 30 NBA player. Morey cannot simply trade just four future first round picks for Butler. The Rockets must move more than 15 million dollars in salary to be allowed to take in Butler’s roughly 20 million. Eric Gordon and filler plus the picks could make for a match.

On the brighter side, Chris Paul’s hamstrings seem fine but he didn’t help the cause by missing back-to-back losses while serving his suspension from the Rajon Rondo fracas. Paul’s reaction to Rondo’s loser/punk behavior was understandable, but it did hurt the Rockets.

Carmelo Anthony finally had a good scoring game in the Utah loss but his 22 point night was padded by garbage time baskets. This team will not be as good defensively as last season’s. The downgrade from Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to Anthony and James Ennis is significant. So is the retirement of defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik.

Compared to other would be Golden State challengers Boston and Toronto, the Rockets bench is thin.

But a reminder that last season the Rockets got off to a modestly good 5-3 start and then ran roughshod over the NBA for the rest of the season with separate winning streaks of 14, 17, and 11 games.

Defending it

Disappointing playoff dismissal from the Red Sox aside, one element of the Astros’ 2018 excellence that went perhaps underappreciated was their defense. By advanced metrics only the A’s and Rays were better in the American League. Oddly, those advanced metrics say Alex Bregman is a mediocre third baseman. That seems ridiculous, so good for Bregman being named a Gold Glove finalist (he has no chance to win, Oakland’s Matt Chapman is a lock). Martin Maldonado won last year and is a finalist this year, which makes it stand out that much more how badly Maldonado struggled behind the plate against the Red Sox. Dallas Keuchel won three years running (2014, 15, 16) and could score a fourth Gold Glove for the mantle at his new home wherever he winds up signing.

Buzzer Beaters

1. The Texans’ all blue uniform is their best.  2. UH needs to clobber USF Saturday to perhaps crack the Top 25. The Group of Five bowl possibilities this year are the Fiesta and Peach.   3. Worst trick-or-treat handouts: Bronze-any edible other than candy Silver-candy corn Gold-small change


 

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

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