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.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

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.

Steven Ryan/Getty Images

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.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

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 are the toast of the town. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The signing of free agent first baseman Jose Abreu on Monday shows one more time that baseball is Jim Crane’s world and 29 other teams are supporting players on a reality show called Keeping Up with the Astros.

Crane, owner of the World Series champs, parted ways with general manager James Click earlier this month. So what does Crane do without a front office boss during this free agent season? He turns around and negotiates a deal on his own with former MVP and 3-time All-Star Abreu, one of the most coveted free agents who just happens to fill a hole in the Astros lineup.

Crane is now Jerry Jones, both team owner and general manager, with one big difference: Crane’s team has won titles this millennium.

What does the Abreu signing mean for the Astros’ chances of repeating as World Series champions in 2023? And what does it mean for arch rival Yankees?

One headline Tuesday put it this way:

“Yankees Season Over Before It Even Started.”

Abreu, who puts the “every” in everyday player (he played 157 games last year and hit .304), will take over for Yuli Gurriel at first base. Gurriel, who is a free agent, may be brought back by the Astros as a utility player.

If you’re looking for hardware, Ace is not the place – try the Astros batting order. Manager Dusty Baker will fill out a lineup card with Jose Altuve (MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, 3 batting titles), Jeremy Pena (ALCS MVP, World Series MVP, Gold Glove), Yordan Alvarez (Rookie of the Year, ALCS MVP, Silver Slugger), Alex Bregman (All-Star Game MVP, Silver Slugger), Kyle Tucker (Gold Glove), Jose Abreu (MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger).

Don’t be surprised if Justin Verlander, the last piece of Crane’s announced puzzle, returns to the Astros next year, and two years after that. Verlander is chasing career goals like 300 wins. Where does he stand the best chance of getting there?

At the moment, the 2023 Astros batting order falls off the cliff 7-9 with Chas McCormick (.245 in 2022), Jake Meyers (.227) and Martin Maldonado (.186). But who’s to say that general manager/owner Crane is done dealing?

The Astros aren’t just successful on the field. They’ve won the hearts and minds of Houstonians. Astros baseball has become sort of a religion in recent years.

In 1966 John Lennon told a magazine writer that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Lennon caught hell for that remark and had to apologize. On a less ecumenical matter, the Astros might say they’re more popular than Thanksgiving and sorry not sorry.

Earlier this month, the Astros drew a million people to their downtown World Series celebration. Last week, they held the Thanksgiving Parade in Houston and many of the sidewalks looked like the upper deck at Texans games – maybe 20,000 people at the parade and I’m being generous.

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