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

Astros Altuve, Texans Watson, Rockets Westbrook
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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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