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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Houston's winning streak moves to six

Eighth-inning rally powers Astros to series sweep over Rangers

Yuli Gurriel brought in the go-ahead run late in Sunday's game. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Winners in the first three games of this series and their last five games overall, the Astros continued their climb towards the A's for first place in the AL West. They completed the four-game sweep, ending a successful homestand on a positive note before heading on the road.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 2

Astros' Record: 24-17, tied for first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Joely Rodriguez (1-2)

Astros strike first, McCullers Jr. goes six scoreless

After the Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Houston grabbed an early lead off the bat of Alex Bregman. He provided the third single of the inning, a one-out RBI to put the Astros in front 1-0, a score which would hold steady for a while. Another run didn't come across until the bottom of the fifth when Houston would load the bases with one out when Carlos Correa would get an RBI groundball to double the lead to 2-0.

Lance McCullers Jr. did well with the small lead, backing up his recent eight-inning gem with a quality start against Texas. He allowed a couple of hits each in the third and fourth but would erase the runners with no damage allowed. The Rangers threatened in the top of the sixth with a leadoff double before the runner moved to third on a wild pitch, putting him in a great position with no outs. McCullers Jr. would come away unscathed, finishing the inning and his day by retiring the next three batters. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 P.

Rangers tie it against Scrubb

First out of Houston's bullpen was Andre Scrubb, and he would not fare as well as the Astros starter. A leadoff single turned into a two-run game-tying homer, making it 2-2 before Scrubb would sit down the next three in order. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley had a terrific inning, striking out the three batters he faced.

Houston rallies ahead in the eighth for the four-game sweep

The top of Houston's order mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out to try and regain the lead. Yuli Gurriel would come through with the go-ahead at-bat, getting a sac fly to put the Astros back in front 3-2. A two-out walk loaded the bases again, setting up Chas McCormick to provide two insurance runs on a two-RBI single.

Myles Straw added one more on an RBI single, making it a four-run game at 6-2 heading to the ninth. Enoli Paredes made his long-awaited return from the IL, appearing for the first time since April 8th to try and close things out in the ninth. He tossed a scoreless inning, finishing off the four-game sweep, extending Houston's winning streak to six games, and keeping them in step with Oakland for the AL West lead.

Up Next: After a day off on Monday, the Astros will begin a six-game road trip on Tuesday. They'll kick off a three-game set in Oakland against the A's at 8:40 PM, an exciting matchup to determine who will head into the weekend atop the division. While Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) is the expected starter for Houston, Oakland has not yet determined their rotation for the series.

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