The Couch Slouch

There is only one way to stop the cheating Patriots

Patriots/Facebook

A popular sentiment these days – and one that most of Sports Nation wants to embrace – is that the New England Patriots finally will be kaput in the postseason and cannot possibly win Super Bowl 54.

What America are these people living in?

Tom Brady could start the game strapped to a gurney, and they could win.

Julian Edelman could play the first half barefoot and the second half in flip-flops, and they could win.

Bill Belichick, at this very moment, is sitting at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Mansfield, Mass., reviewing the latest Patriots surveillance tape of the Kansas City Chiefs' training table.

Still, most of us are hoping that, much like President Trump's three-year win streak ending with impeachment, the Patriots' 18-year NFL dynasty will cease with an implosion.

The Patriots' demise has been prematurely predicted countless times before. Heck, I bought a Patriots piñata at TJ Maxx in 2015 that I have yet to take a baseball bat to.

Is it finally time?

They are old – their quarterback is 42, their coach is 67 and their owner is 78. Then again, the quarterback might be the greatest of all-time, the coach might be the greatest of all-time and the owner is still savvy enough to seemingly dodge prostitution solicitation charges in Florida in which he was allegedly caught on videotape.

Speaking of videotape – before we deep-dive into the team's supposed free fall – let's briefly address the Patriots' latest cinematic venture, "Bengals in Autumn," which should screen at next year's Cannes Film Festival.

(NFL Films should hire Belichick. He gets footage no one else has access to.)

So a video crew working for the Patriots filmed the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline during a recent game. At this point, I don't care if it was an "accident;" if a Wells Fargo branch is robbed and John Dillinger is standing in front of the bank, would you give him the benefit of the doubt?

This occurrence echoes the team's 2007 Spygate scandal, in which the Patriots videotaped New York Jets defensive coaching signals, prompting NFL fines for Belichick and the team, plus the loss of a first-round draft pick.

But my barber George – yes, I got another haircut last week and he told me I do not have to come in again until April 2021 – has a better idea this time, disciplinary-wise. A fine? Pfft. Draft picks? Pfft. Oh, no. George says…

BAN THEM FROM THE POSTSEASON FOR ONE YEAR.

Like this year. And why not?

Because if we don't, as Roger Goodell is my witless witness, these swindling, cheating, scamming, preening Patriots are going to win another Super Bowl.

Sure, they've had lousy offensive-line play, they've had no running attack and no deep threat and they've been unable to replace Gronk. They had no offensive player selected to the initial Pro Bowl roster for the first time since 2003. And the mighty Brady has been reduced to shuffling around the pocket, throwing six-yard checkdown passes.

Uh, you realize the Patriots are 12-3 and we're talking about them struggling.

How good have the Patriots been?

The Patriots will finish at least 12-4 this year for the 13th time in 17 seasons. In that span, the NFL's other 31 teams have finished at least 12-4 a total of 66 times; seven teams have zero 12-4 seasons since 2003. The Patriots make 12-4 look as easy as the Cleveland Browns make 4-12 look simple.

Woe are the Patriots? I think not.

The Patriots are like POTUS – write 'em off at your own risk. They have endless tricks in their shoplifted bag; for crying out loud, Edelman apparently faked a head injury against the Buffalo Bills Saturday.

Between Brady, Belichick and borderline officiating – I believe the last time the Patriots lost a replay challenge was at the Boston Tea Party, late 1773 – I cannot bury these knaves.

What I can do is beg beg beg Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes or Jimmy Garoppolo or Aaron Rodgers to put the kibosh on this unspeakable national nightmare.

Ask the Slouch

Q. Since President Trump has been going to more sporting events lately, do you think he will take in the Georgetown-vs.-Deep State basketball game next month in D.C.? (Gary Duncan; Washington, D.C.)

A. If I were the Hoyas, I wouldn't play Deep State – those games have got to be fixed.

Q. Do we have you to thank for increasing the exposure of our fair city of Spokane when listing it as the residence of another successful contributor to "Ask the Slouch," or is it just because of Gonzaga basketball? (Steve Owings; Spokane, Wash.)

A. I don't even know where Spokane is.

Q. If R*dsk*ns owner Daniel Snyder were impeached for malpractice, who do you think he would call as character witnesses? (John Myers; Harrisonburg, Va.)

A. Even if he were impeached, I suspect he would be acquitted in a Senate trial.

Q. Have Duke basketball fans seen more flops than Amarillo Slim? (Mike Soper; Washington, D.C.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Cristian Javier has proven he's a quality starting pitcher. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2022 regular season is nearing its end and while for the Houston Astros the true test will begin in the postseason, now is a good time to look ahead at what the team’s starting rotation could look like in 2023.

The big question will be whether long-time ace Justin Verlander returns to the team. Heading into 2022, there was doubt whether he would even be with the Astros coming off Tommy John surgery. Verlander re-signed with Houston on a two-year deal with a player option for 2023.

His production in 2022 has been nothing short of sensational. Verlander has the most wins for the Astros with a week left in the season. He has a 1.82 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 5.2 wins above replacement. More importantly for both Verlander and the Astros, is that he has played in 26 games and counting this season.

Whether Verlander remains with the Astros will likely depend on whether Houston is willing to spend. It is highly likely Verlander opts out of his player option following the strong 2022 campaign he has put together and looks for a bigger payday. Houston has shown it is not afraid to let key players walk in the offseason, so let’s take a look at a potential rotation with and without Verlander.

If the 39-year-old, who will be 40 by the time the 2023 regular season starts, stays with the Astros, he will undoubtedly be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in the rotation along with Framber Valdez, who is right behind Verlander in wins this season at 16. If Verlander leaves, Valdez should be the new Astros ace at No. 1.

Behind those two should be pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who in seven games in 2022 has a 2.38 ERA and has cooled the concerns about his right flexor tendon strain being a long-term concern. He suffered the injury last postseason.

After those three, things begin to get interesting. Let’s say Houston opts to stay with a six-man rotation. The fourth starter could be Luis Garcia, who has a 3.90 ERA in 2022. The 25-year-old has shown he is more than a capable starter for the Astros.

The big question is if Hunter Brown can lock himself a spot in the rotation. Numbers wise, he makes a solid case to be more than Houston’s fifth starter as he has garnered 1.13 ERA through four appearances and two starts.

Brown’s starts have been against the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, so there is a bit of a caveat there, but the upside undoubtedly should put him in the conversation for a starting role in 2023.

If Verlander leaves Houston, it should be more of a guarantee that a spot in the rotation as a starter for Brown is locked. Another factor in whether Brown is a starter could be if the Astros keep Dusty Baker as manager. Baker has shown at times he is willing to side with veterans over younger talent.

Other factors in Brown’s role will also be Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Urquidy has a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, all of which have been starts. Javier has a 2.65 ERA in 29 appearances, 24 of which have been starts.

Javier’s role for the Astros the last couple of years has involved starting and coming out of the bullpen, but this season he has shown that he is a capable starter. Based on this season’s play, Javier should have the edge for a starting spot, which leaves the question, what should the Astros do with Urquidy?

If Verlander walks, and Houston opts to keep a six-man rotation, then he just slides in and becomes starter No. 6. If Verlander stays, then is he willing to accept a role out of the bullpen, or do the Astros continue to use Brown out of the bullpen? Over the course of the season, both Brown and Urquidy will undoubtedly have chances to start throughout 2023.

Because of the long grind of an MLB schedule, the Astros should not trade whoever doesn’t get a starting role if Verlander stays, but how likely is it that it is even a problem for Houston? Regardless of who leaves or stays, the Astros should also continue with a six-man rotation because over the course of 162 games, it is what is best for your starters.

If the Astros bring back general manager James Click, based on how the Astros have seen players like George Springer and Carlos Correa walk in the past under his leadership, it is likely Verlander leaves Houston, but at the same time, many didn’t believe he was going to be back at all for 2022.

One thing is for sure, the Astros have a great problem to have. So many starting pitcher candidates, many of whom can be under team control for several years. So even if Verlander walks, an unforeseen injury happens, or a player ends up being disgruntled, Houston has more than enough flexibility to remain among the American Leagues’s best.

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