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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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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