Joe Kazmar – For The Record

When the Houston Astros’ Cy Young Award winning lefty Dallas Keuchel was asked in spring training this year what he expected in 2016, he replied, “Same old team, it’s just another year, We’re still going to have fun, That’s pretty much it. It’s boring.”

Keuchel was right on a couple of predictions because it’s pretty much the same old team and it really is just another year, but I guarantee you, he’s not having any fun.

He was awarded the Cy Young Award last season for his brilliant 20-8 record and 2.48 ERA. Going into his next start this week Keuchel owns the worst record (3-9) and highest ERA (5.54) of any Astros’ starter. His 50 earned runs and 92 hits allowed are the  most in the American League.

The mounting losses whenever Keuchel is on the mound for Houston are not always his fault. On several occasions the Astros were shut out or only scored a run or two while Keuchel may have had only one bad inning, but it usually spelled defeat.

According to Monday’s Houston Chronicle “a lack of run support has plagued Keuchel all season. The All-Star lefthander has garnered an American League worst 2.46 runs of support per start, and the Astros have scored three or more runs for him in only three of his 14 outings. (Mike Fiers, on the other hand, has averaged 6.07 runs of support over his 12 starts).”

Last Sunday at Tampa Bay was a perfect example of how Keuchel’s season has been going. He breezed through the first four innings, facing one over the minimum batters before two botched double plays helped the Rays score five runs and send Keuchel to the showers. The score ended up with the Rays winning 5-0.

“Bad breaks are far from the whole story of his season, and Keuchel in 14 starts has already lost nine decisions, one more than he lost in 33 starts last year,” the Chronicle pointed out.

This week’s USA Today Sports Weekly had on article on Keuchel which stated, “If the Astros are to complete their rise from the American League cellar to a playoff spot, Keuchel’s revival will be a key development.

“Before he faced the (LA) Angels on May 28, Keuchel had gone 0-5 with a 7.78 ERA over his previous seven starts. Last year he gave up more than three runs six times in 33 outings. This season, he did it in five of his first 10 starts, the article continued.”

Astros’ Manager A.J. Hinch pointed out, “A lot of the stuff he has done early in the season is noteworthy because we aren’t used to seeing him struggle with his command and control.

“When you see guys struggle that have had the type of success he’s had, it gets a little more magnified than the issue really is. He is our ace and he is still our ace,” Hinch proclaimed.

But the Astros’ slow start the first two months of the season can’t all be attributed to Keuchel’s demise—nobody except All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve has hit consistently all season. Altuve had the Astros’ only two hits Sunday, bringing his batting average up to .344, which ranks among the leaders in the major leagues.

Carlos Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year is also off to a very slow start. He missed the entire three-game series at Tampa Bay with an ankle injury, but was expected to play last night (Tuesday) at St. Louis.

After winning 11 of 13 games, the Astros have lost five of seven going into St. Louis last night for a brief two-game series. They return home to Minute Maid Park for a three-game weekend series with Cincinnati and then three games with the Los Angeles Angels.

A nice winning streak could get the Astros up to the .500 plateau and maybe on their way to challenge for another playoff spot.

KWICKIES…The Chicago Cubs’ fans are obviously stuffing the ballot box for All-Star voting. As of last week every infield position had a Cubbie leading the voting including the No. 1 outfield choice. Lufkin Hudson graduate Brandon Belt was second in the voting as the San Francisco Giants’ first baseman.

The NFL’s two-time defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Erin Andrews will host the CMT Music Awards tonight at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. It can be seen on CBS.

Shell announced last week that it will stop sponsoring the Houston Open in 2018. The 2017 event will be played March 27-April 2 and will be the 26th and last with the energy company as the title sponsor.

And while on the topic of PGA Tour golf, the 116th U.S. Open begins tomorrow (Thurs.) at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. with Jordan Spieth the defending champion. The four-day major event will be televised Thursday and Friday on FS1 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Fox (4-7 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday (Fox 10 a.m.-6 p.m.).

For you half-a-dozen National Hockey League fans, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 Sunday night to win the prestigious Stanley Cup.

A lot of money was lost when 6-5 favorite Exaggerator came in 11th in the field of 13 at Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Creator, a 16-1 long-shot, edged out Destin in a photo finish in the 1½-mile race which is the third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Houston Texans began their three-days of organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camp Tuesday with no pads and no hitting. The defensive line will be looking to replace departed Jared Crick while the offensive line will have new starters at center and right guard to replace Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks. There are 16 linemen on the roster and all should be present except Duane Brown who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn quad tendon suffered in the 16th game last season. The three-day mini-camp is the only mandatory part of the off-season program.