THE PALLILOG

Texans look to make a huge statement; Astros already doing so, but not in a good way

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There is not a lengthy list of quality alternatives, in fact there is not much of a list at all, but a Texans win at 7-2 Baltimore on Sunday would be the biggest road victory in franchise history. A win takes the Texans to 7-3 and secures the driver's seat in the race for the second AFC postseason bye. A loss means 6-4, and pretty much no shot at a bye. The quarterback matchup is spectacular. Ravens' second year sensation Lamar Jackson is probably running second in the NFL Most Valuable player race. Texans' third year blossomed star Deshaun Watson might be third (the Seahawks' Russel Wilson is on the lead).

His running is what has made Jackson a unique force this season. He's on pace to shatter Michael Vick's NFL record for quarterback rushing yards in a season by more than 200 yards. This game is one where the Texans figure to sorely miss J.J. Watt, and could really use Jadeveon Clowney. Oh well.

The Astros busy autumn, good and bad, continued this week. By unanimous vote Yordan Alvarez won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Justin Verlander very deservedly won his second AL Cy Young Award, 17 votes to 13 over the equally (and maybe a wee bit more. Or less.) deserving Gerrit Cole. Alex Bregman settled for runner-up to third time winner Mike Trout in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting. Trout beat Bergman by the same 17-13 margin Verlander edged Cole. So by a two voter margin the Astros miss out on becoming the first MLB team ever to produce a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner, and MVP in the same year.

The General Managers meetings in Scottsdale Arizona this week produced next to nothing on the transaction front. The one something was something that if of a mind to spend the Astros should have been interested in pursuing, lefthanded reliever Will Smith to the Braves for three years $39 million dollars. The price of poker will be too high for the Astros on most guys this offseason. Next week there are owners meetings in Arlington, next month, the winter meetings in San Diego. By then major movement should have heated up on the free agent and trade fronts.

Fantasies can bring a little spice to life, but's let's put to sleep a couple of Astros related fantasies.

With Cole highly likely to become an ex-Astro, the need for a starting pitcher is glaring. Behind Verlander and Zack Greinke the Astros rotation is all question marks. Only a fool or the desperate would count on Lance McCullers for a healthy and very good season. Jose Urquidy is far from a given. Can't miss prospect Forrest Whitley? A huge question mark after two years filled with a PED suspension, injury issues, and plenty of lousy pitching. Whitley is still just 22 years old and could wind up fulfilling much of his potential. Banking on him would be dumb.

With all that said, forget any idea of a pursuit of Stephen Strasburg. The Astro World Series vanquisher won't get Cole money, but is likely to get 30 million per season for at least 4 years. There is no way that is in the Astros' budget. Mets free agent Zack Wheeler at 20 per? Doubtful.

Speaking of Astro World Series vanquishers, another fantasy is any notion of Lamar high school and Rice Owl-ex Anthony Rendon coming home via hometown discount. The Astros wouldn't be interested even with a discount. Rendon is joining the 30 mil per year club. So anyone thinking move on from brittle Carlos Correa, move Alex Bregman fulltime to short, plug in Rendon at third...that's really not fantasy, it's delusion. Correa is the Astros shortstop. Yes his track record of daintiness is troubling. His 2019 postseason overall was poor. But Correa remains relatively cheap, maybe eight or nine million next season. The Astros control him for two more seasons. Correa is still just 25, and really good. Cross your fingers about his health.


Then there was the latest Astros' ethical mess. Ex-Astro Mike Fiers has no motivation to concoct the story about the Astros' cheat of a sign-stealing system. The evidence has mounted that the Astros cheated. It's not as if the NCAA will vacate the 2017 World Series title, but in the aftermath of the Brandon Taubman fiasco it's another embarrassing black eye for the organization and another stain on this overall glorious era of Astros baseball. Does their moral compass truly grasp this? One particularly disappointing component would be if A.J. Hinch is confirmed as complicit with the scheme, especially after he was such a beacon of class during the Taubman mess. It's a humongous if. If yes, Hinch could also face a long suspension.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Machiavelli texted that the Astros have gone overboard. 2. Myles Garrett should have been arrested for his punk move Thursday at Mason Rudolph. 3. Greatest sports Rudolphs: Bronze-Kyle Silver-Tomjanovich Gold-Wilma


Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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