THIS TIME ASTROS VS. RED SOX SERIES IS FOR REAL
Three years ago after the Houston Astros stumbled through their third straight season of 100 or more losses, a writer for a popular sports magazine wrote a column stating the team would get to the World Series in 2017. Men in white coats carrying butterfly nets and straight jacket straps went on an expedition trying to find this lunatic and capture him before he made any other “idiotic” statements. Well, this columnist probably could put Nostradamus to shame with his bold prediction now that Houston is only three playoff series away from him hitting the nail on the head. The Astros on Sunday finished their second-best season with 101 wins, just missing the 102 victory mark set by the 1998 Astros that didn’t even have a great playoff run. This was their first division championship since 2001 when they played in the National League. New owner Jim Crane decided to bite the bullet and get rid of the high dollar non-performers and use their high draft choices from their miserable finishes to rebuild the team. Houston had a team payroll of a paltry $22 million in 2013 and the front office realized that you get exactly what you pay for. Crane told new General Manager Jeff Luhnow to get busy trading for or drafting some quality baseball players. They accidentally made the 2015 playoffs after some of their youngsters became of age and adapted to the major leagues, especially second baseman Jose Altuve who led the league in base hits. However, the following year, which should have been as good as or even better than the 2015 squad, failed to make the playoffs. Again, Crane appealed to Luhnow to get some veteran talent whatever the cost. So last winter the general manager shopped the free agent marketplace and first signed 40-year-old Carlos Beltran, which made many Astros fans roll their eyes. But Beltran could provide some leadership in the club house even if he didn’t live up to expectations with his bat. Luhnow corralled catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Josh Reddick and pitchers Charlie Morton and in late August got ace right-hander Justin Verlander from Detroit as the team payroll jumped to $117 million and will probably be even higher in 2018. Now the biggest problem Houston has is which 25 players will make the playoff roster? Manager A.J. Hinch plans too carry 11 pitchers and 14 offensive and defensive players, which should include several platoon specialists and at least one speedster who can pinch-run for some of the slow afoot regulars. The series begins against the Boston Red Sox Thursday at Minute Maid Park in Houston with the Astros having a wealth of quality starting pitchers from which to choose including Verlander and lefty ace Dallas Keuchel for certain and then there’s Brad Peacock, who can start or relieve, Morton, Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh. Don’t be surprised if a regular starter ends up with bullpen duty, joining closer Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and possibly Joe Musgrove. There’s a real good chance that some of the aforementioned hurlers won’t make the 25-man playoff roster. The Astros showed last weekend they can compete with the Bosox, taking three-of-four in the season’s closing series. But they did not face ace lefty Chris Sale, who led the major leagues with 308 strikeouts. The best-of-five American League Division Series gets under way 3:08 p.m. Thursday and 1:05 p.m. Friday in Houston, then moves to Fenway Park Sunday and Monday if necessary and then back to Houston Oct.11 if Rubber Game 5 needs to be played. All ALDS games will be televised either on FS1 or MLB networks, with the other two American League teams competing are the winner of Tuesday’s wild card playoff between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, who will play the Cleveland Indians, who had the best record at 102-60. I believe Houston and Cleveland will meet in the ALDS finals next week. KWICKIES…On a personal note, I was saddened by the passing of my former next-door neighbor Paul Lorimer last week. Paul had at least one tool for any situation that could ever come up, and if I was the one who goofed up something, Paul would have it good as new in a matter of minutes. Two of my golfing buddies, Bob Hood and Jim Rodda, are moving to retirement communities. Bob is going to San Antonio the first of next year as soon as his cottage is completed, but has stopped playing golf for medical reasons. Rodda played his last round with us Saturday and is leaving today (Wed.) to Sun Valley Retirement Village in Georgetown. I’m going to miss paying those guys after our rounds. Bridge City native Matt Bryant was ranked as the NFL’s second best kicker prior to Sunday’s action despite being 42 years old. New England’s Steven Gostkowski is the leader of that parade of talent. The Tennessee Titans ageless defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau really seemed helpless Sunday when the Houston Texans walloped the Titans 57-14. The 75-year-old defensive veteran was 28-4 against teams starting a rookie quarterback. But LeBeau couldn’t devise a plan to stop the Texans’ rookie signal caller Deshaun Watson, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another. The 57 points put up by Houston were the most in franchise history. JUST BETWEEN US…A couple of home field winning streaks came to bitter ends last weekend as the Dallas Cowboys lost a substantial 24-16 lead at halftime only to lose 35-30 to the Los Angeles Rams and their defensive coordinator and former head coach, Orange native Wade Phillips. LSU fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing Saturday night as little Troy jumped out to an early lead and hung on to upset the three-touchdown favored Bayou Bengals 24-20. Troy was the first team from outside the Southeastern Conference to win at LSU’s Death Valley since UAB in 2000, snapping LSU’s streak of 49 straight home victories over non-league opponents.