HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Stars will be out at awards

Jose Altuve is up for athlete of the year. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

It’s a #HoustonStrong red carpet that we’re pretty sure will outshine the ESPYs. And maybe even the Oscars.

You already know the Legendary 34s will be on hand – Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon – along with Academy Sports + Outdoors Sportsmanship Award winner J.J. Watt, Executive of the Year Jeff Luhnow and Lifetime Achievement winner Leslie Alexander.

But have you seen the finalists for some of the other awards?

We’re talking a ballot filled with your favorite H-listers and some of the nation’s best athletes, all of whom will be on hand for the inaugural Houston Sports Awards February 8 at the Hilton Americas.

Take the finalists for Papa John’s Athlete of the Year. American League MVP and batting champion and one of Sports Illustrated’s cover boys Jose Altuve may top the list, but he’s got some impressive competition in Houston Astros teammate and World Series MVP George Springer. Add two of the best in their respective games in Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and, well, it has the making of a close race.

POWERADE’s Coach of the Year finalists are a diverse group which includes Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Houston Dynamo rookie coach Wilmer Cabrera and two high school coaches -- Cy Falls’ Richard Flores, who coached his team to the state basketball title, and Cy Fair’s Ed Pustejovsky, who coached the Bobcats to a perfect 15-0 season and the state title.

Houston sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the 2017 Outland Trophy winner and Westfield grad, will be challenged for College Player of the year by OU sophomore softball player Nicole Mendes, who was homeschooled in Houston, and ACC Player of the year  Justin Jackson, who led North Carolina to the 2017 NCAA title.

The Event of the Year ballot is stacked. Starting with Super Bowl LI, which featured an overtime comeback win by the New England Patriots and continuing through the fall with the Astros’ incredible run to the team’s first World Series win and a ticker-tape parade downtown to celebrate that drew more than a million fans.

And there’s moment of the year finalist list, which has a little bit of something for everyone. Jeff Bagwell’s weekend in Cooperstown where he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pearland Dawson’s kicker and homecoming queen Claire Jeffress, who kicked five PATs in the homecoming game, then nailed a winning field with 1:08 to play the following week. And for World Series fans, you can choose from Game 5’s wild twists and turns and George Springer’s exclamation point of a walk-off single, or Game 7, which clinched the title and led to a long-into-the-night celebration filled with selfies, a marriage proposal and a champagne soaked locker room.

And that’s a start. We still have more finalists to reveal. Both the CBS Sports Radio Fan of the Year and the Texas Sports Nation High School Player of the Year finalists will be revealed early next week.

To see the finalists and details on their seasons, go to www.houstonsportsawards.com

The ballot will be voted on by a select group of sportswriters and sportscasters who have collective decades of experience covering Houston Sports.

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The Astros need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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