Every-Thing Sports

Why I still believe in the Astros' chances

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The year 2020 is the gift that keeps on giving. As if the shortened season due to the pandemic along with the sign-stealing scandal hanging over their heads wasn't enough, the Astros are now dealing with the fact that ace pitcher Justin Verlander may be out for the season. This is par for the course. My kids have alerts set up to get any breaking sports news, so they will typically be up to date on what's going on. From time to time, they'll break news to me when I'm busy. As I was in the middle of cooking the meals they requested, my daughter broke the news to me. I didn't believe her at first, so I asked my son to verify. He was busy with the dogs and couldn't get to his phone. I stopped, washed my hands, grabbed my phone and yelled.

I didn't want to believe it was true. It sunk in and felt like an anchor on my chest. My head hung low as I finished cooking. I couldn't even enjoy my food. All I could think about was their chances of winning a revenge title were out the window. Then it hit me. It hit hard. I raised my head up, looked off in the distance, thought for a sec, smiled, and knew there was still a good chance. So what made me change course? Here's what crossed my mind:

The pre-Verlander Astros

Prior to acquiring Verlander mere minutes ahead of the trade deadline in 2017, the Astros were still considered a World Series contender. They were 80-53, had an 11.5 game lead in the AL West, a 3.5 game lead in the AL overall, had the most runs scored in MLB, and the third best run differential rate in MLB. The bats were winning them games, not the pitching staff. This lineup has to support the team if they hope to remain title contenders. They'll need to win more 7-5 games than 4-1 games. Could this lead to Dusty Baker and crew changing their analytic approach? Possibly. It will also lead to...

More pressure on the pitching staff

Next man up never meant more than it does now when it comes to the Astros' pitching staff. Baker has been known to use, or even overuse, his bullpen. Being down last year's AL Cy Young winner is a serious blow. This adds pressure to the starters and the bullpen. Every starter moves up a spot in the rotation. Zack Greinke (older vet) and Lance McCullers Jr (coming off Tommy John surgery) will be relied on to carry the bulk of the load. Meanwhile, guys like Jose Urquidy, Josh James and others will have to step up and take on bigger roles. The bullpen will need to provide the starters steady backup when they either can't go any longer, or get into a jam. Forrest Whitley was left off the 30-man roster, but expect that to change if some of the aforementioned guys don't pan out and/or Whitley seems ready to contribute.

Something to prove

When the Astros were punished for the sign-stealing scandal, everybody and their momma had something to say. After the pandemic shut down sports, the blowback went away for a while. As the season was being discussed on how to return, things ramped back up. People actually said they were upset the Astros wouldn't get booed. All the while, this team took it in stride and prepped for their return. Given their start, the Verlander injury, the talent on this roster, and an us versus the world mentality, I can see them using this as motivation to stick it to everyone. Nobody wants them to win outside of Houston, and they know it. What better way to make all the haters sick?

There's something about saying "I told you so" with your actions as opposed to verbally announcing it. It's a feeling you can't replicate. It makes you want to DX crotch chop whoever doubted or hated on you. People who operate on a different level than others can use that hate as fuel in their tanks on the road to success. You can't tell me Alex Bregman won't see this as extra motivation. He's the kind of guy that will not only use it himself, but use it to fire up his teammates as well. Pro athletes are wired different. Lots of them play for the love of the game. They thrive off the challenge of being the best and beating the best to prove it. What better circumstances do the 2020 Astros have in order to do just that? I haven't given up hope on what this team can accomplish this season and neither should you.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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