HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: A big season for awards

Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt. Sports Illustrated

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Humbled & Honored.

Short and sweet. Simple and honest.

But, most of all, J.J. Watt’s opening line was straight from the heart.

So was the second.

Houston, this is for you and this is for the hundreds of thousands of people who donated from all over the world.

What followed on his Twitter feed Tuesday was an exclamation point to 2017 – a cover shot of the Texans defensive end and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve with their arms thrown around each other’s shoulders having a great time posing for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year issue.

If ever a year belonged to one city, this year was it.

An August to forget. A late October to remember. #HoustonStrong

And now an awards season like no other.

Everywhere you look, the city’s top athletes are taking center stage.

Watt raised the city on his shoulders after Hurricane Harvey and raised more than $37 million for relief effort before a freak knee injury ended his comeback season. Altuve, the Astros pint-sized American League batting champion, captured the hearts and imagination of the country as he led the Astros on an amazing run to their first World Series Championship.

SI honored the duo’s power which was unmatched in September when the city started to bounce back from Harvey, which devastated neighborhoods and caused close to $200 billion in damages.

The Astros, meanwhile, took down Major League baseball’s elite teams in the playoffs – Boston, the New York Yankees and LA Dodgers, in order – and simply dominated the MLB awards:

*Altuve won the American League MVP and shared best postseason player with teammate Justin Verlander.

* A.J. Hinch was named manager of the year and General Manager Jeff Luhnow took executive of the year honors.

* George Springer was the World Series MVP and Alex Bregman owned the moment of the year with his 10th inning walk-off single in Game 5’s 13-12 Astros win.

* Carlos Beltran won SI’s Hope Award for his hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

* The MLB even honored Houstonian Kirk Head with catch of the year when he took Yasiel Puig’s homerun ball from his sister-in –law Sarah and threw it back onto the field during Game 5 of the World Series.

* University of Houston sophomore Ed Oliver won the 2017 Outland Trophy Thursday night, was named 2017 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award.

* And, if he hadn’t torn his ACL in practice in early November, Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson would likely have been in the running, at the very least, for rookie of the year.

Now, as we prepare for 2018, there are still a few awards left to hand out.

All those national award winners above could also be among those taking bows at the inaugural Houston Sports Awards Feb. 8 at the Hilton-Americas Downtown. But, with 10 different awards, you’ll see many more outstanding Houston athletes walking the red carpet.

"The athlete and executive that may win the award may very likely win it in their league as well," Rockets president Tad Brown said when the Awards were announced in September. "That shows the quality of teams that we have here."

Brown was, to say the least, prescient.

From three different Athletes of the Year to Executive of the Year, Fan of the Year and Event of the Year, Houston Sports Awards ballots will be stacked with talent, heart and must-see moments.

You already know the event is honoring Houston’s famous No. 34s – Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon – and we’ll add a few more names to the mix soon. Plus, we’ll be revealing the nominees for seven categories next week, so stay tuned.

For everything you need to know about Houston Sports Awards – everything from categories to how to purchase tickets -- go to www.houstonsportsawards.com

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Always wanted season tickets? Each time you purchase a 2018 Houston Sports Awards Golden Ticket Raffle, you buy a chance to win a pair of season tickets to all Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo, Rodeo Houston & Houston Open home games/events during the 2018-19 season. In addition, the winner of the drawing receives tickets for two Houston Texans home games, the 2018 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff and the 2018 Texas Bowl. Information is available at www.houstonsportsawards.com

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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