CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans in a good spot in AFC South if they can pull off win in Denver

The Texans added Demaryius Thomas. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Texans’ strength of victory during their five game winning streak is not good. Big deal. From 0-3 to 5-3 is laudable. If the Texans just split their back-to-back road trips to Denver and Washington the AFC South should be theirs. However it’s only a meaningful division title if they then win a Wild Card round home game, then at least show well in the Divisional Round.

Regardless of how well it works out, credit to Texans’ General Manager Brian Gaine for acquiring wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Denver. Thomas is past his prime but still should be a vast upgrade over any Texans’ wideout other than DeAndre Hopkins. Renting him for a fourth round pick carries a favorable risk/reward ratio, though it certainly doesn’t elevate the Texans to legit AFC Champion contenders. That will take being a top two AFC seed (unlikely), or at least winning a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history (doubtful at New England or Kansas City).

The Texan D Sunday gets after Bronco quarterback (and Texan and UH-ex) Case Keenum. So who do you believe: Keenum saying that Bill O’Brien told him he would never be more than an NFL third stringer, or O’Brien saying he would never tell any player such a thing? Keenum last season had a magical run with the Vikings highlighted by his miracle game winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs against the Saints in the playoffs. The magic disappeared when Keenum (and pretty much all Vikings) stunk the following week as the Eagles destroyed Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game.

The season overall set up Keenum financially for life, as the QB-desperate Broncos guaranteed him $25 million dollars in a two year $36 million dollar contract. Keenum has played poorly this season. He is the only guy in the NFL to throw at least one interception in all of his team’s games this season. Keenum will have to take a huge pay cut or more likely simply be cut after the season.

John Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live, but since Peyton Manning picked the Broncos Elway sure has been a blunderfest in quarterback decisions. The Texans made the massive gaffe of guaranteeing Brock Osweiler $37 million dollars, but don’t forget Elway offered Osweiler $30 mil. Elway used a 2016 first round pick on Paxton Lynch who is out of the NFL already. Now Keenum is probably one and done in Denver and will have made 25 mil for that one season.

Rough start

Calling the Rockets’ start to the season pathetic is disrespectful to the word pathetic. Mitigating circumstances exist. James Harden is not in peak playing condition. Chris Paul missing two games suspended. Of vastly lesser importance, James Ennis has been out. Mike D’Antoni keeps talking about how the Rockets have young and new players. As if they’re the only team with young and new players. And the Rockets don’t have any meaningful young players anyway.

What the Rockets do have is serious issues. That Chris Paul was awful against Portland is just a bad night, but that Paul is among the Rockets’ numerous defensive problems, is a real problem. A 33 year old Paul can not keep opposing guards in front of him. Carmelo Anthony is likely finished as a quality player. P.J. Tucker is a good role player but if you consistently need more from him, you’re up a certain creek without a paddle.

Collectively the Rockets have been a disgrace on defense. A switching defense can work beautifully with good, interchangeable players who care. Last season the Rocket D was regularly one of those defenses. Now it’s like a lousy pick-up team, where switching is a lazy way to shirk responsibility as much as it is strategy.

The new emphasis limiting contact off the ball hurts the Rockets big time. Slow and/or physical defenders can’t get away with nearly as much bumping and grabbing. Conversely, the Rockets aren’t helped offensively by the change because running isolation or pick and roll almost all the time, the Rockets have hardly any movement off the ball.

Last season the Rockets lost seven regular season home games total. This season they are 0-4 without coming remotely close to winning, the losses by 19, 11, 20, and 19 points. The season is still very early, but the Rockets’ window of bonafide title contention may be slamming on them amazingly quickly.

Respect for a legend

One can be a Hall of Famer and still be underappreciated. I think that was/is true of Willie McCovey who died Wednesday at 80 years old. McCovey’s career lacked the aura it deserved, largely because McCovey was overshadowed by playing through his prime with Willie Mays as a San Francisco Giant teammate.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Clocks back an hour Saturday night. Only night of the year Standard Time is preferred.  2. Just off the podium, Johnny Mize… 3. Greatest 1B in NL history: Bronze-Willie McCovey Silver-Jeff Bagwell  Gold-Albert Pujols


 

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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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