FOOTBALL IS COMING

When the NBA and NHL seasons end, the NFL fun begins

Bill O'Brien and the Texans now take center stage. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

We’ve had all of Monday and Tuesday this week to dissect the conclusions to the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals so naturally, it’s time to focus mostly on football with a little bit of mid-season Astros. But really, football. Mini-camp workouts have started so the hype train is loaded up and ready to barrel on down the tracks.

If you’re paying attention you’ve already started to see heavy speculation about players returning from injury. You’ve seen rosters being loaded and unloaded with veteran and undrafted players. You’re starting to feel that twinge of excitement because you know that your busy summer will pass quickly and training camp is on the horizon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s start with what’s currently happening: mandatory three-day mini-camp. Day one was yesterday and Cody Stoots provided SportsMap with his 11 Observations to whet your appetite.

It’s good to see the Texans taking the field and Deshaun Watson appears ready to play, but throwing the ball in an unpadded practice is just a small step in the process. This week is just another step in his continued rehab from his knee injury. I like reading that his receiving options seem to have improved as well. Now I want to see how the defense looks, but I’m glad to see Houston has the best offense in the NFL.

But let’s not forget that it’s a team effort and everything happening right now is learning how to play together while the coaches evaluate their performance. There will still be a lot of shuffling at the bottom of the roster and the Texans should be active this time of year. It could be one of those cast offs that really helps them late in the season.

But for now, let’s look at these last two days as our chance to see the team in action and begin formulating our wildest predictions.

I’ll go ahead and kick things off:

  1. Deshaun Watson is ahead of schedule and won’t miss a beat to start the season.

  2. The addition of receiving options Keke Coutee, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas will be the difference in multiple wins this season.

  3. The defense has a good enough rotation to keep the star players healthy and capable of a top-five finish.

  4. The schedule and the competition will work in their favor on the way to 10 or more wins and a home playoff game.

Time for you to come up with your own or talk trash about mine. There’s plenty of time. Training camp doesn’t start until the end of July and the dates have yet to be released. So, for now, we can only argue and laugh as we speculate on what will happen in the fall.

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros have 12 games left in the regular season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

A five-year anniversary Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup would be a doozy on several levels. It’s the most likely matchup, but that doesn’t make it probable much less inevitable. Still, my goodness are they towering over their respective leagues as the regular season is into its final two weeks. With an 8-4 finish over their remaining games the Astros equal the franchise record 107 regular wins amassed in 2019. If the Astros don’t lose again and total an awesome 111 victories, they still probably don’t catch the Dodgers for homefield advantage should they meet in the Series. The Astros are heading to their seventh postseason in the last eight years, the Dodgers to their 10th in a row. That is insane sustained excellence for both. However, each has won only one World Series during these runs. Eight different franchises have won the last eight World Series. From 1982 through 1990 nine different franchises won the World Series.

And then, there were twelve

With the Astros down to a dozen games left as they arrived in Baltimore, a dozen Astros thoughts:

Justin Verlander's start in the series opener vs. the Orioles is his antepenultimate (hoity-toity word for third from last) regular season start. Verlander needs the win in all of them to finish 20-3.

Jose Urquidy starts Friday. In his three remaining starts Urquidy must show better than he has in his last couple or there would be no good reason to go with him over Cristian Javier as the Astros fourth starter in the postseason.

Framber Valdez goes Saturday trying to add on to his single season Major League record of 25 consecutive quality starts. It’s not an official statistic, and “quality” is a stretch when three earned runs allowed in six innings qualifies, but it is remarkable that Framber has had zero bad outings 25 straight times out. The evidence can’t be clearer than NO OTHER PITCHER IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME has done it. In 18 of the 25 Valdez has yielded no more than two earned runs. Verlander has been magnificent all season. His longest “quality start” streak is 10. Verlander has made 25 starts, meeting the “quality” definition in 20 of them.

Decisive game five of their American League Division Series matchup, the Astros lead 3-2 after seven innings with the opposition top of the order due up in the eighth. Since the robot managerial handbook dictates Ryan Pressly be saved for the ninth, which Astro reliever do you most trust in the eighth?

Yordan Alvarez is batting .302 with 37 home runs and 94 runs batted in. The only Astros ever to hit .300 with 40 homers and 100 RBI in a season are Jeff Bagwell (twice), Lance Berkman, and Richard Hidalgo. As frame of reference, Albert Pujols did .300/40/100 six times. Mike Trout has never done it.

Yordan is obviously the better hitter but Kyle Tucker is the better all-around player. The Astros signed Alvarez for six years 115 million buying out three years of potential free agency. Tucker is on the same service time schedule as Alvarez was, not free agent eligible until after the 2025 season.

Free agent-to-be Aledmys Diaz looms large in the Astros’ postseason lineup. He largely stunk through July 4th but has been firecracker hot since, giving better production per game played than a healthy Michael Brantley would have given. Doubting me? Don’t. From July 5 forward Diaz has a higher slugging percentage than Yordan.

Yuli Gurriel’s defense at first base remains excellent, but if he looked any more washed up at the plate than he has most of this season he might wake up in front of the Galveston Seawall.

It’s just 41 games but other than an early power surge following his acquisition, Trey Mancini has not impressed. Gurriel needs to be replaced, but Mancini hasn’t made much of a case that he’s the man for the job next year.

Jose Altuve’s spirits seemed fine in the dugout Wednesday night after he was removed from the game an inning after taking a pitch off of his left elbow. The elbow needs to be fine. Like Yordan, an injured or ineffective Altuve renders the Astros’ lineup no better than mediocre.

Chas McCormick is fine as part of a platoon in center field. James Click should be in the market for a left-handed hitting CF complement for next season, or a right-handed hitter who handles right-handed pitching adequately. If Click is back as General Manager. What gives there, Jim Crane?

The Astros have played one game all season with Minute Maid Park’s roof open. That should change on the final home stand. It likely won’t, but it should. Most evenings are comfortable now once the sun is down, and it’s not like the air conditioning has to be turned off as the roof opens. The optimal ballpark experience has the roof open. And…if the Astros make it back to the World Series and MLB then dictates the roof be open if rain is not a factor, it is sensible to get a few games under their belts with roof open conditions.

Finessing the game

Whatever one thinks of the LIV golf tour, it absolutely is hurting interest in the PGA Tour. Too many big name players grabbing LIV megabucks is crushing the marketability of PGA tournament fields. Like the upcoming Houston Open November 10-13 for instance. Want a “free” ticket to any remaining Astros home game this year? Just buy a golf ticket through this Sunday.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome