4th and a mile with Paul Muth

The Houston sports misery index: Here's who has it the worst

Being 1-5 with the Packers coming to town is pretty miserable. Composite photo by Jack Brame

Let's be honest. Houston sports embodied 2020 about as comprehensively as possible. At the moment, the longest tenured coach or GM for a major Houston sports franchise is Dusty Baker. He clocks in at about eight months, three weeks, and two days. Suffice it to say, there's been some turnover.

The bad news is that the prospects of Houston's big three teams don't look particularly rosy moving forward. The Texans are bad, the Rockets are rudderless, and the Astros are still universally reviled outside of Houston.

The good news is that they each vary in their level of despair. As such, here's how each team ranks in potential turnaround time:

#3: The Houston Texans

The Problem: The team is 1-5. Their defense is terrible. They have no first or second round draft picks this season. They have no full time head coach or gm. Jack Easterby still works there.

In a rare move, Texans owner Cal McNair showed that he might actually interested in owning a team that wins football games by firing Bill O'Brien earlier this month. Even if they hire universally prized Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, their offensive line in addition to their defense is still atrocious. There are holes all over the roster that need to be plugged and with no first or second round draft picks, finding a quality general manager may prove difficult.

The Upside: Deshaun Watson. That should be enough to keep a smile on Texans fans' faces. They're going to keep losing, but at least it will be fun and flashy. Watson also could serve as just enough of a lure to bring in a coach like Bieniemy. There are also contracts that could and should be moved by the trade deadline to amass as much draft capital as possible, as pointed out previously

#2: The Houston Rockets

The Problem: The Rockets are a top-heavy team with little depth and no center. They recently lost one of the best general mangers in the modern era of basketball and their head coach quit. They're up against the salary cap with few tradeable assets and no draft picks of note.

For the past 13 years, the Rockets have always had a shot simply because general manager Daryl Morey was in the building. That's no longer the case after Morey stepped down last week. He leaves behind a team with no head coach, and a roster configured for a small-ball experiment that imploded in the playoffs. With an owner that has been singing from the mountaintops about how much money he's lost during the pandemic, one has to wonder how much money he's willing to spend on a new coach. The Russell Westbrook/James Harden experiment ended with mixed results, but with all of their draft picks spoken for and a lack of attractive contracts, it looks like they'll be forced to try it again for at least another year.

The Upside: The Rockets decided to promote executive vice president Rafael Stone to GM. Stone served as Morey's main assistant in recent years, so hopefully their philosophy in the front office remains consistent. There's also been interest shown around the league in Westbrook. If he can be offloaded at all, that would be a step in the right direction.

#1 The Houston Astros

The Problem: In a cash strapped offseason, the Astros stand to lose outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick. Pitcher Justin Verlander and closer Roberto Osuna will be largely unavailable next season due to Tommy John surgeries. Their first and second round draft picks in the 2021 have been stripped by MLB as part of their punishment in the sign-stealing scandal. Pretty much everyone outside of Houston hates them.

You can pretty much say goodbye to the Astros entire starting outfield. George Springer has been criminally underpaid his entire career, Brantley proved his worth, and Reddick did the opposite. Verlander curiously announced Tommy John surgery at the end of the season, and there's no telling when Osuna will be back. It's hardly likely that the Astros will be spenders in general manager James Click's first full offseason at the helm based off of previous comments made to the media. Oh, and next year there will probably actually be boos coming from the stands.

The Upside: The Astros had no choice this season but to throw out a ton of young, unproven arms and it paid off surprisingly well. Framber Valdez has gone from rotation guy to potential day one starter in my opinion, and guys like Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes have steadied a bullpen that looked like it would be one of the team's biggest positional liabilities. Even if they don't keep all of them, they at least have some interesting trade chips now that have a decent resume to go off of. The outfield will be completely new, but it will be anchored by Kyle Tucker, who used 2020 as an impressive coming out party. And don't forget about Yordan Alvarez.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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