4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

What does sports media look like without sports? We're finding out

Texans Deshaun Watson
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's the job of sports media to provide content that draws readers to their site. Traffic generates marketing opportunities, marketing opportunities draw advertisements, and so on and so forth.

Until now, there have only been thought projects on what sports media would look like without sports. And it isn't until probably this past week or so that we've really begun to see how the sports media market reacts when sports are ripped off of the menu.

Until recently there has been at least a little meat on the bone to pick at. There was the "Ok this is happening" article wave. Then there was the "Here's an interesting way to start the season back up," wave. There were articles about how athletes are spending their time, what teams this benefits, etc. Then NFL free agency kicked off and there was a small injection of content.

As someone who writes exclusively about sports, I can tell you firsthand that it is difficult. One tactic I use when I'm struggling to come up with something to write about is that I don't allow myself to listen to music or anything while driving. It gives me a moment to focus, which is something I'm terrible at. That said, these past few weeks have been pretty quiet on the way to work.

Now, outside of the NFL draft, we're starting to see the bottom of the well. Without new content sports media is searching for anything they can to put on a front page. Here are a few examples:

"Ray Allen challenges LeBron James, Shaq and other ex-NBA players to show off their hairlines in quarantine."

Why? Just do what everyone else is doing and just stop grooming your facial hair. There's solidarity in a country of unkempt beards. There's no need to prove what we already know.

"Sources: CP3, Young, LaVine plan on H-O-R-S-E"

This is front page material on ESPN.com. The best part is that not only are there are people out there that will watch this, it's also a virtual lock to be in the SportsCenter Top 10.

"Alabama coach Nick Saban adopts email while adapting to recruiting during extended dead period"

Wait. What? Will this make him even more unstoppable?

It's been interesting at least to watch the coverage pivot. Luckily here in Houston we have Bill O'Brien, which is the editorial gift that keeps on giving.

So what happens next? What happens after the NFL draft, and the 2K Tournaments and the H-O-R-S-E games transpire? The NBA draft will probably get a level of exposure it has never seen before.

It looks like we're on the cusp of the next wave of articles though. The "should we even have a season?" wave. Personally, I'm on the fence. But of that were to in fact happen, it's an almost guarantee that sports coverage would look more like tabloid coverage if the above mentioned headlines are any indication. That, and a ton of Top 5 lists.

So that's it. Next week I'll be doing my Top 5…

Yeah right.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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