Joe Kazmar – For The Record

Ever since the new year began in January there had been speculation about how some of the new faces the Houston Astros acquired during the off-season will help the team improve even beyond the success it enjoyed last season.

The Astros were supposed to be an average team at best, with a high-water goal of playing .500 ball and finishing in the middle of the mediocre American League West Division.

But Houston jumped off to a surprising 18-7 start last April, moved into first place in mid-April and then refused to give up first place until football training camp began in early August.

It looked real good for the Astros, but in reality, they have posted a lop-sided 85-97 record since the end of last April. Generally bad pitching is to blame, but in this case it’s been the hitting—or lack thereof—that’s caused most of the losses, especially this season where Jose Altuve is the ONLY batter hitting above .254.

According to Monday’s Houston Chronicle, “The 2016 Astros can’t hit. And they don’t have the lineup to realistically try. Combined batting average at third base is below .175, center field .185, catcher .194 and first base a hefty .230.

“If you take away Altuve (.328 BA, 58 hits and .995 OPS), what does this team really have at the plate? Potential unfulfilled at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in George Springer and Carlos Correa, who are batting below .255 with a combined 99 strikeouts in 347 at-bats,” the article points out.

The Astros stand at 11 games under .500 and 10 games behind AL West leader Seattle and became the first team since the 1991 Milwaukee Brewers to lose back-to-back-to-back 2-1 games before breaking that trend and losing 9-2 like most 17-28 teams.

Their ace American League Cy Young Award winner of last season, Dallas Keuchel, is floundering so far this year with a 2-6 record and a 5.92 Earned Run Average and their acquisition from the Philadelphia Phillies, Ken Giles, is having problems allowing too many hits and runs and not enough outs when he’s on the mound.

I hope that all the hype we’ve trudged through from the blockbuster deals that brought in quarterback Brock Osweiler from the World Champion Denver Broncos and running back Lamar Miller from the Miami Dolphins doesn’t have the same effect on the Houston Texans that it did on the 2016 Houston Astros.

The Texans finished 2015 with a 9-7 record which was good enough to qualify for an AFC wild card berth. Of course the 30-0 shellacking Houston took from the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs certainly ended their season on a sour note.

They immediately realized that the quarterback position was weak and began searching the free agent heap for someone who might improve the offense. When Osweiler’s name came up, the Texans went right after him.

Osweiler didn’t come cheap, but rather than draft a rookie and teach him the offense from Square One, Texans owner bit the bullet and signed the 6-8, 240-pound Osweiler for a whopping $72 million investment for a franchise quarterback, paying for his five-year’s of experience in the National Football League.

The same thinking went into obtaining Miller, who just turned 25 last month, as a replacement for the often-injured Arian Foster.

Miller, at 5-10, 225-pounds and quick as a cat, will be starting his fifth season in a Texans’ uniform after four solid seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

The Texans plan on giving Miller more touches than he got with the Dolphins because he is a terrific receiver and offensive coordinator George Godsey will make sure he is used in the passing game.

Arian Foster averaged 20 and 21 carries a game in the four seasons when he gained at least 1,200 yards, while the only time Miller got at least 20 carries in 2015, he gained 113 yards in a victory over Baltimore.

Miller’s best season with Miami was 13.5 carries in 2014 when he recorded his only 1,000-yard season. The Texans plan to have Miller touch the football 20 times as a runner and receiver.

If he can handle more, he’ll get more.

KWICKIES…Two horses had to be destroyed at Pimlico Race Course Saturday prior to the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes which is highly unusual. Homeboykris collapsed and died after winning and having his picture taken in the winner’s circle after the opening race. In the fourth race, four-year-old filly Pramedya broke down and had to be euthanized on the track. The Jockey Club in March released 2015 statistics for the frequency of fatal injury, showing that the fatality rate was 1.62 deaths per 1,000 starts across all surfaces, ages and distances. In 2014, according to the Equine Injury Base, the rate was 1.89 per 1.000 starts.

The Lamar Cardinals baseball team finished in fourth place in the Southland Conference and will meet fifth-seeded Central Arkansas 7 p.m. today (Wed.) at Constellation Field in Sugar Land. Sam Houston State defeated Houston Baptist 5-4 Saturday to win the Southland Conference championship by two games.

Sergio Garcia played well when he had to Sunday to finish tied for first place with Brooks Koepka in the PGA Tour Byron Nelson Tournament and then parred the first extra hole to win the playoff after Koepka drilled his tee shot into the pond. Garcia overcame four bogeys and two balls in the water for a two-under 68 to get to 15-under 265. Garcia matched Seve Ballesteros for the most PGA victories (9) by a Spanish-born player.

JUST BETWEEN US…After suffering four straight losses to Nyquist, Exaggerator let the Kentucky Derby winner and Uncle Lino battle for the lead throughout the 1 3/16-mile Preakness and then put on a late burst to overtake both of them and win the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown by 3½ lengths on a sloppy Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Exaggerator, the second choice at 5-2, returned $7.20, $3.20 and $2.40. Nyquist was edged out by Cherry Wine for second. A drenched record crowd of 135,256 watched Exaggerator end his losing streak in a big way.