THE PALLILOG

Texans go deep with Hopkins, and it pays off

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Off Sunday's humiliation in Baltimore beating the Colts was a quality bounce back for the Texans Thursday night. Neither team looked like a Super Bowl threat, and the prospect of the Texans winning another AFC South championship excites very few as a stand alone achievement. Still, if the Texans are to ever notably break through in the playoffs, being in the playoffs is a prerequisite. The Texans are now probable to secure another one of those cute little AFC South Champion banners.

I said on the radio this week that it was lame that the Texans offensive scheme had largely reduced DeAndre Hopkins to a possession receiver. Through the first 10 games D-Hop wasn't even averaging 10 yards per reception (9.9). His low for a full season is 12.2, second lowest 13.7. 35 and 30 yard touchdown receptions vs. Indy later, the words "about time" come to mind. About time in giving their best player a chance to make catches downfield once in a while.

At 7-4, the Texans last regular season game against a good team is vs. the Patriots a week from Sunday. Even if they do their usual and lose to the Pats, the Texans should win 10 games and for a sixth time in nine years their division. Over the last quarter of the schedule anything less than 3-1 would be something on the spectrum from disappointing to epic failure (should it cost them a playoff spot): two games with the currently 5-5 Titans, a home game vs. the 3-7 Broncos, and a road game at the 3-7 Buccaneers.

State of dismay

Except for Baylor and SMU (both 9-1!), what a crappola FBS Texas college football season is winding down.

Tom Herman's third season at Texas stands at a mediocre 6-4 heading into Saturday's game at Baylor. The Longhorns have no individually horrible losses, but TCU and Iowa State are nothing special, and they barely beat Kansas. UT's season makes a punchline of Sam Ellinger's "We're baaaaaack!" proclamation after last season's Sugar Bowl win. Mack Brown's third season in Austin produced the first of what would be 10 consecutive seasons finishing in the top 13 of the final AP poll.

Jimbo Fisher is in his second season at Texas A&M. The Aggies are a hollow 7-3 heading into Saturday's game at Georgia. The Aggies' three losses all came to excellent teams: Clemson, Alabama, and Auburn. But they weren't substantially competitive in any of those games. The Aggies seven wins have come over not bowl eligible squads, though Mississippi State could get to 6-6! If the Aggies don't pull a major upset at Georgia or next weekend at LSU, Fisher's second season is a definite disappointment. His first season in Aggieland high point was the seven overtime thrilling victory over LSU. Contrast the Aggies with the Tigers 12 months later.

Dana Holgorsen's first season at UH is a stink bomb, Mike Bloomgren's second at Rice has one win. TCU, Texas Tech, North Texas, UTSA, UTEP. Not one winning record in the bunch.

Fuss about Russ

Russell Westbrook is one of my top 10 all-time NBA favorite players to watch. That doesn't change the reality that his three point shooting is lousy and despite the Rockets' bombs away system he should basically stop shooting threes. Westbrook is literally the worst volume NBA three point shooter ever. Four of the last five seasons he has failed to crack 30 percent. 30 percent stinks! So far this season, West"brick" checks in at a sub-awful 22.7 percent. It's going to be a problem for the Rockets in trying to win at the championship level. On the plus side, Westbrook is a one man fast break who has elevated the Rockets from being one of the slowest tempo offenses to one of the fastest.

If you'd like to live in Edmond Oklahoma about 20 minutes from downtown Oklahoma City, Westbrook is selling his mansion there. Approximately 8400 square feet, it can be yours for $1,695,000! He's selling at a loss. Westbrook owns a 9000 square foot palace in the ritzy Brentwood area of Los Angeles, for which he paid a reported $19,750,000.

Big Bang coming

With the state of their payroll the Astros weren't going to spend much in free agency regardless this offseason, but it can't help that Jim Crane and his ownership partners are probably looking at a seven figure fine when Major League Baseball lowers the boom after its investigations of Astro cheating schemes, and the organization's indefensibly horrible handling of the Brandon Taubman fiasco. And it sure seems like it is when that boom is lowered, not if.

Buzzer beaters

1. If only Will Fuller wasn't so darn fragile. A healthy Fuller is a dynamic threat. 2. At this point in his contract who is more overpaid, Herman at six mil per season or Fisher at seven and a half? 3. Greatest Sports Leonards: Bronze-Dutch (the better one) Silver-Kawhi Gold-Sugar Ray

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Cristian Javier has proven he's a quality starting pitcher. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2022 regular season is nearing its end and while for the Houston Astros the true test will begin in the postseason, now is a good time to look ahead at what the team’s starting rotation could look like in 2023.

The big question will be whether long-time ace Justin Verlander returns to the team. Heading into 2022, there was doubt whether he would even be with the Astros coming off Tommy John surgery. Verlander re-signed with Houston on a two-year deal with a player option for 2023.

His production in 2022 has been nothing short of sensational. Verlander has the most wins for the Astros with a week left in the season. He has a 1.82 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 5.2 wins above replacement. More importantly for both Verlander and the Astros, is that he has played in 26 games and counting this season.

Whether Verlander remains with the Astros will likely depend on whether Houston is willing to spend. It is highly likely Verlander opts out of his player option following the strong 2022 campaign he has put together and looks for a bigger payday. Houston has shown it is not afraid to let key players walk in the offseason, so let’s take a look at a potential rotation with and without Verlander.

If the 39-year-old, who will be 40 by the time the 2023 regular season starts, stays with the Astros, he will undoubtedly be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in the rotation along with Framber Valdez, who is right behind Verlander in wins this season at 16. If Verlander leaves, Valdez should be the new Astros ace at No. 1.

Behind those two should be pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who in seven games in 2022 has a 2.38 ERA and has cooled the concerns about his right flexor tendon strain being a long-term concern. He suffered the injury last postseason.

After those three, things begin to get interesting. Let’s say Houston opts to stay with a six-man rotation. The fourth starter could be Luis Garcia, who has a 3.90 ERA in 2022. The 25-year-old has shown he is more than a capable starter for the Astros.

The big question is if Hunter Brown can lock himself a spot in the rotation. Numbers wise, he makes a solid case to be more than Houston’s fifth starter as he has garnered 1.13 ERA through four appearances and two starts.

Brown’s starts have been against the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, so there is a bit of a caveat there, but the upside undoubtedly should put him in the conversation for a starting role in 2023.

If Verlander leaves Houston, it should be more of a guarantee that a spot in the rotation as a starter for Brown is locked. Another factor in whether Brown is a starter could be if the Astros keep Dusty Baker as manager. Baker has shown at times he is willing to side with veterans over younger talent.

Other factors in Brown’s role will also be Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Urquidy has a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, all of which have been starts. Javier has a 2.65 ERA in 29 appearances, 24 of which have been starts.

Javier’s role for the Astros the last couple of years has involved starting and coming out of the bullpen, but this season he has shown that he is a capable starter. Based on this season’s play, Javier should have the edge for a starting spot, which leaves the question, what should the Astros do with Urquidy?

If Verlander walks, and Houston opts to keep a six-man rotation, then he just slides in and becomes starter No. 6. If Verlander stays, then is he willing to accept a role out of the bullpen, or do the Astros continue to use Brown out of the bullpen? Over the course of the season, both Brown and Urquidy will undoubtedly have chances to start throughout 2023.

Because of the long grind of an MLB schedule, the Astros should not trade whoever doesn’t get a starting role if Verlander stays, but how likely is it that it is even a problem for Houston? Regardless of who leaves or stays, the Astros should also continue with a six-man rotation because over the course of 162 games, it is what is best for your starters.

If the Astros bring back general manager James Click, based on how the Astros have seen players like George Springer and Carlos Correa walk in the past under his leadership, it is likely Verlander leaves Houston, but at the same time, many didn’t believe he was going to be back at all for 2022.

One thing is for sure, the Astros have a great problem to have. So many starting pitcher candidates, many of whom can be under team control for several years. So even if Verlander walks, an unforeseen injury happens, or a player ends up being disgruntled, Houston has more than enough flexibility to remain among the American Leagues’s best.

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