TEXANS QB HAS MADE ESCAPING TROUBLE ELEMENTARY AS HE CONTINUES TO MAKE MAGIC HAPPEN.

Watson: Houdini with a helmet on

Deshaun Watson
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Deshaun Watson has matured right before our eyes as he continues to get better and better. He has continually overcome injury, survived his early years with the Bill O' Brien offense and the bad o-line that came with it and learned from each mistake he has made along the way. He knows when to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions and when to tuck it and run. His passing skills have always been good but they seemingly improve with every snap and the fact that he faces the music and the media when he plays poorly and then goes back to the lab to get better means his dedication to his craft lives up to the growing hype train that is rolling down the tracks. Houston and fans of the Texans everywhere need to appreciate what they get to witness every week when No. 4 gets behind center for their team and be thankful that after all those lean QB years with a revolving door of misfits and journeymen, you finally have your franchise quarterback.

Texans Rick Smith Bill O'Brien, Tytus Howard, Brian GaineComposite photo by Brandon Strange

I know it's hard to fathom, but in an indirect way, you have to thank Brock Osweiler for getting Watson to H-town. If Osweiler had remotely worked out after the team signed him to a huge free-agent deal, you would never have Watson in red, white and blue. Be thankful Rick Smith tried to right his wrong and no matter the price and how many draft picks were lost in the process, the moves he made to make drafting the Clemson QB a reality were worth every penny. The Chicago Bears surely have to be kicking themselves as they did what Smith and the Texans did, giving up a future first-round pick to get their franchise quarterback, but Mitch Trubisky is no Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes for that matter. Both MVP candidate quarterbacks went later in the same draft and were passed over by the Bears who felt "Maseratii Mitch" was better. Thank goodness they did as Chiefs fans and Texans fans will always look back on those draft day dealings and feel thankful.

The early returns on the 2017 QB class gave all the accolades and the top billing to Mahomes and rightfully so. After sitting out his first year to learn the ropes, system and coaching staff, he took the league by storm and became a human highlight reel every Sunday. The season culminated with a tough loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but also with Mahomes winning the NFL MVP Award. Could you imagine if Watson had an innovative offensive mind like Andy Reid from the start? What if he had the Chiefs o-line? Can you imagine Watson operating with all the weapons Mahomes had and has at most every skill position? I say that to make the point that the media and most experts thought it was a no-brainer that Mahomes was the cream of the 2017 crop of QB's and forgot the fact that Houston was still putting pieces around their QB1 and once they did, he would continue to get better and better.

He also had to overcome the after-effects of an injury suffered in the midst of a season that almost surely was headed for rookie of the year as well as MVP consideration. As we look at the two quarterbacks now, it's more of a dead heat and toss-up than it was just a year ago and the future may very well dictate that Deshaun will be king of the hill when all is said and done. Regardless of how it all ends, be thankful you will be along for the ride, every step of the way, as he leads your team into battle for each and every game. As much as people scoffed at Dabo Sweeney when he proclaimed the whichever team drafted Watson, his college QB, was getting the Michael Jordan of football, he doesn't look too far off as we watch Watson's meteoric rise.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* 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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