Ranking the best

The top 10 Houston athletes of 2018

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Last year, when the Astros won the World Series, we did the top 20 Houston athletes. The Astros World Series championship truly expanded the field. With no titles but some strong performances, this year we offer the top 10 (rankings are based on 2018 performance in the calendar year against their level of competition. Make sure you keep that in mind before you complain):

10) Chris Paul

Rockets Chris Paul

Chris Paul just sneaks in.

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Injuries have kept him from moving up on the list, but Chris Paul has been a force when healthy. The sad part is he might be best known for an injury; the hamstring that kept the Rockets from beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Just edges out another injury-riddled player, Ed Oliver of UH.

9) Jadeveon Clowney

Texans Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney is a force on defense.

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His stats don't jump off the page, but they don't really do Jadeveon Clowney justice. He disrupts games and wreaks havoc on defenses. He also has a negative impact with penalties, which keeps him from being higher on the list.

8) Jose Altuve

Joe Altuve of the Astros

Jose Altuve is still one of the best in the city.

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Last year's No. 1 battled injuries, but Jose Altuve was still one of the best in the game despite a slightly down year. Hard to ever envision a list where he is not on it, and this is about as low as you would ever expect to see him.

7) Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is an emerging star.

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After a slow start recovering from last year's knee injury, Deshaun Watson has become the franchise quarterback the Texans hoped he would be when they drafted him No. 12 overall. He has willed the team to victories several times, and the Texans are always a threat when he is in the game.

6) D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King was terrific as a runner and passer.

Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook

Unless you watched UH football this year, you might have no idea just how great D'Eriq King was. He threw for 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 10 games and rushed for another 14 touchdowns and 674 yards to go with his almost 3,000 passing yards. King's 50 total TDs was off the charts, and the team collapsed when he was injured late in the year. A dynamic player at a school known for dynamic quarterbacks.

5) J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt is back.

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Unlike Clowney, J.J. Watt's impact does show up in the stats. With one game left, he has 14.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and SIX forced fumbles. After not playing for most of the last two seasons, dominating J.J. has returned. It's odd that the Texans defense has two players on this list and is not very good.

4) Justin Verlander

Astros pitcher Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander was superb.

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In his first full season as an Astro, Justin Verlander was everything you expect a future Hall of Famer to be. He went just 16-9, but had 290 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA and remains one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball.

3) Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman

Alex Bregman was a monster in 2018.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Building on his 2017 late season and postseason success, Alex Bregman was the Astros best position player in 2018. He hit 31 HRs with 103 RBIs and batted .286, but more importantly came up clutch all season long. The scary thing is he can get much better.

2) DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the business.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Watching DeAndre Hopkins this season has been a pure joy. He has been the best player in the NFL at one of the glamour positions and makes incredible play after incredible play. With a game still to play (and the playoffs), he has 103 catches for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns. A truly elite player.

1) James Harden

Rockets James Harden

James Harden is the MVP.

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Hard to argue with a league MVP at the top of the list. Harden led the Rockets to a remarkable season last year. While the team has struggled early this season, lately he has carried them. Might not hold on to this spot next year with some of the players behind him knocking on the door but hard to beat him in 2018.

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The Astros will look to Framber Valdez to pitch Game 6 of the World Series. Composite image by Jack Brame.

They may not have finished the regular season with the best overall record in all of MLB, and they may not play in one of the toughest divisions in the league. Yet, the 2022 Houston Astros showed plenty of signs this season that their pitching staff was operating at an elite level, and paired with a more-than-adequate offense, they were the best team in baseball all along.

Pitching their way back into the series

The World Series isn't over yet by any means, with the Astros needing to get the final win in Game 6 or a possible Game 7 to finish things off, but the performance their arms put on in games 4 and 5 has to instill a sense of destiny about what's to come. Let's go back to Game 3, where, due to tipping or not, the Phillies offense completely dismantled Lance McCullers Jr. on their way to handing Houston a disheartening 7-0 loss.

That gave Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead after the first of three games at Citizens Bank Park and left Houston searching for a significant flip of momentum and quick. Boy, they got it, with Cristian Javier righting the ship with his spectacular start, going six hitless innings followed by a non-surprising quality night from the bullpen to finish the combined no-hitter.

That tied the series, setting up a big moment for Justin Verlander. After his Game 1 implosion continued his World Series woes, the presumptive Cy Young award winner must've felt some pressure heading into Game 5, knowing that another disappointing start may cost his team the series. Instead, he finally gets his first win in the Fall Classic, making it through five innings while allowing just one run before his bullpen would finish things off for him. Speaking of the bullpen...

Pressly for WS MVP?

Let's talk about Ryan Pressly and his ascension with the Astros. He joined the team via trade in 2018, coming in as a middle-innings reliever. In 2020, then-closer Roberto Osuna suffered an injury, and Houston decided to move Pressly to the closer role. That change has paid massive dividends for the team, and there's been no better display of it than Pressly's performance in this World Series so far.

In Game 1, he enters in a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth and sits down the nine, one, and two hitters of the Phillies to give Houston a chance at a walk-off, though they would go on to lose in extras. In Game 2, he allows the only hit he's given up to the Phillies, which would score after an error but still held on to finish off the victory that tied the series 1-1.

After not appearing in the lopsided Game 3 loss, he enters in the ninth of Game 4, which despite being a 5-0 game, still had a high level of stress with a combined no-hitter on his shoulders, which he would get across the finish line. Then, the night after finishing that no-no, he has the most impressive outing so far.

In the midst of one of the most stressful games of the year for Houston, their bullpen allows a rare run in the bottom of the eighth, making it a 3-2 game and giving the Phillies a chance to put together a series-defining rally if they could take the lead and go up 3-2 in the series. Dusty Baker opts to trust his closer, bringing in Pressly with runners on first and third with one out in a one-run game, asking him to escape the jam and get a five-out save.

The first batter he faces, Pressly does precisely what he needs to do, getting a three-pitch strikeout to allow any out to end the inning, which he would get against the dangerous Kyle Schwarber to send the game to the ninth with the Astros still in front. Then he's faced with the heart of Philadelphia's order in the bottom of the ninth, with Houston still owning a one-run lead. Strikeout, fly out with a fantastic Chas McCormick assist, a hit batter, then a groundout to win the game.

There will be more offense to consider for Jeremy Peña, Alex Bregman, and others that are also firmly in the discussion should the Astros win the series. Still, with how Pressly's going, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Houston's closer takes home the World Series MVP trophy.

Run the playbook one more time

Before the trophies start getting handed out, Houston needs to check off that final box, which is getting one more win. Their recipe for success continues to be having one of their elite starters get as far into the game and with as minor damage as possible, then trusting their bullpen arms to navigate the rest of the way.

With the uncertainty of a Game 7, the Astros need that playbook to work in Game 6, where they'll have their "other ace," Framber Valdez, on the mound looking to replicate the success he had in Game 2, where he went six and one-thirds innings while allowing just one run. After the day off to rest the bullpen, if he can get into the middle innings with a close game, Dusty Baker will be able to piece together the rest with his cast of near-untouchable arms, and Houston will be champions once more.

Bench Framber

Astros Framber Valdez, Justin VerlanderBench FramberComposite image by Brandon Strange

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