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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome