Changing it up

What would a two-game NFL preseason look like?

Does J.J. Watt need the time? Bob Levey/Getty Images

The concept of a two-game preseason comes up every year when injuries happen to important players and teams now have holes they weren’t worried about before. This year there are already over a dozen players just with knee injuries who may not play in 2018. It’s about normal, but everyone complains about it like it isn’t anyway. It’s a great idea for some because it’s two fewer meaningless games we have to watch. But this change would have to be collectively bargained in a few years and might only happen if the players agreed to an additional two regular season games.

That’s a hard sell all around. From the players standpoint, it’s two more games they have to play at full speed where the chances of injury are higher. For the owners, it’s two less games they collect huge revenues while paying the players very little. It also means teams will have less time in training camp to get healthy and coaches will have less time to evaluate players.

That could be a huge deal for teams like the Texans. Imagine if Deshaun Watson had to be ready for game action a week from now. Would he be less than 100 percent? Would he have to sit out a game or two while Brandon Weeden leads the offense against the Patriots and Titans? The same argument applies to J.J. Watt, Carson Wentz, and Andrew Luck; all star players who suffered major injuries last year.

If the season were to start after two preseason games, it would make them a lot more interesting too. It would mean that the starters see more playing time instead of sitting out most of the game. That’s bad news for players at the back of the roster. Less playing time is less of an opportunity to make an impression. If coaches build their roster with less game film, it might not work out for the best.

Depending on when the regular season begins some players won’t be ready to take the field. With a four-game preseason, major injuries have time to heal but also be put to the test in practice and games. But because the games don’t count there is no reason for those coming off an injury to rush themselves. They generally start with a few plays and then work their way up to a full quarter or more. Shortening the schedule will force those same players into more action sooner. That could lead to a choice between recovery or getting prepared to play, but also make the games exciting. The current four-game schedule keeps a little more space for them to get used to full speed again.

Injuries are going to happen in football. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Major ones that end a season take longer to recover. Cutting the schedule to two games will help some teams, but for the Texans it would hurt. Having Watt and Watson and Mercilus all coming back from injured reserve, there may not be enough time; forcing them to play the start of the season in less than ideal condition. These players are ready to return though. If they really are back to full strength, then having to play in only two games will be just what they need to work hard but not overwork early on.

Fans will probably be happy. This is a sort of neutral part of the season for them. The games don’t mean anything, but reporters write about them like they do. Fans spend money on game tickets only to see their favorite players for one series. On the other hand, preseason tickets are cheaper than regular season ones and it may be their only opportunity to make it to a game. A shorter preseason would mean that those games will have more stars on the field and fans will get a good look at them for a more affordable price.

The truth is, it’s going to be a hot-button topic until the next negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021. I’m on the side of shortening the preseason to two games. Adjustments will have to be made to training camp and regular season practice schedules so that players can be better prepared but it’s doable. I welcome the shortened schedule and would enjoy less time watching meaningless games full of players that won’t make a roster.

But owners don’t want a two-game preseason. For them these four games are a cash cow. The players are making less money for these games. However; ticket prices, concessions, and merchandise are still the same. Cutting that revenue stream in half won’t be on any of their to-do lists. There would have to be a lot of discussion and some give and take.

We will talk about this next year and the year after that. Nothing can change right now but I’m interested in the direction it’s going. The Texans still have three games left before the start of the regular season. They will continue to evaluate the young guys and work others back from injury. This year they need the extra game while plenty of others don’t. It won’t be the same scenario next year.


 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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