JOHN GRANATO

This roller coaster Astros season still has many twists and turns to come

Dallas Keuchel had a rough start to the season, but look at him now. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you thought this was going to be a smooth ride this Astros season you couldn’t have been more wrong. What you thought you could count on has turned to mud and what you thought was an ugly duckling is really a beautiful swan. And it’s not over yet, There’s still a month left to this season. Who knows how it’ll end up but this is why you can never speak in absolutes at any point in a 162-game season.

This season started with unbelievable starting pitching, well, everyone but Dallas Keuchel. He got off to a miserable start. The rest of the rotation was straight fire. Remember when Justin Verlander was a lock to win the Cy Young? 16 starts in he was 9-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 15 of those 16 were quality starts. He led the league with 130 strikeouts.

Since then he’s had 12 starts with a 4-6 record and given up 34 runs for a 4.46 ERA. Only half of those have been quality starts but the most alarming part is the 18 home runs he’s given up over those 12 starts. You don’t hear nearly as much about the Cy Young these days but with Chris Sale’s injuries Verlander is definitely still in the hunt thanks to that fast start.

On the other end of that spectrum is Keuchel. At one point it looked like he was going to have a tough time making the postseason rotation. On June 10th he went 4 ⅓ and gave up 6 runs, 5 earned which ballooned his ERA to 4.45. He was 3-8 on the year on a team that was 17 games over .500. In a contract year it looked like this would be Dallas’ last season in Houston.

Something somewhere somehow changed after that start and he’s been the Astros best pitcher over the last two months. Since then he’s 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA. All but three of his 14 starts have been quality starts. He’s back to clearly being the Astros number two starter.

There was a time this season when J.D. Davis, Derek Fisher and Tyler White were prominent in this lineup. Two of those three have gone by the wayside while Tyler White has not only played his way into an everyday role, he’s become one of their best hitters. That’s not an understatement.

Early on I’d get tweets about White in the lineup, how pitiful it was and how he should go back to Fresno. I don’t get those anymore. While he has a smaller sample size than most of the the guys in the lineup, he’s been so good that if the playoffs started today you could make the argument that he should be the team’s cleanup hitter.

White leads the team in OPS and slugging. He’s second in on-base, batting average and home runs per at-bat. Only Gattis hits homers at a better rate but White destroys him in every other category which is why Gattis doesn’t see the field anymore. Remember when Gattis knocked in 30 runs in June in 98 at bats? He’s had about half that many at bats this month and at this rate probably even fewer in September.

Remember when Marwin was costing himself millions in a contract year? Not anymore. At the end of May he was floundering with a .612 OPS. This month it’s 1.049, second only to White who needed a ninth inning walk-off home run yesterday to pass him. Good stuff.

Remember when the bullpen was a mess and there was maybe one guy (Colin McHugh) you could count on? Not the case anymore. I know Osuna has his issues. He will blow some saves. You’ve got to live with that. But a 7th, 8th, 9th of Pressly, Rondon, Osuna or Pressly, Osuna, Rondon or McHugh, Pressly, Rondon or McCullers, Rondon, Osuna or Sipp, McHugh, Rondon or whatever combination A.J. chooses to use is actually not scary anymore. There will be hiccups - always are - but at least you don’t think that you have to use a starter in relief to get anyone out this postseason.

I know Carlos Correa looks bad right now. His average is below .250. He looks lost at the plate. He shouldn’t be hitting clean-up for anyone let alone one of the best teams in the majors, but let’s not jump off the Correa boat just yet. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this season it’s that you never know, you just never know.





 

 

 

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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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