KAZ’S KORNER

 

A great pitching match-up kicked off the 2018 World Series last night at Boston’s Fenway Park as the Red Sox ace Chris Sale started against Los Angeles Dodgers brilliant lefty Clayton Kershaw.

But neither of these teams can boast about having the best starting pitching rotation in the major leagues.

That honor goes to the defending world champion Houston Astros, who were picked to win the series by many prominent sports writers before the playoffs began earlier this month, despite the fact the Red Sox had the major’s league’s best record of 108-54.

I do have to admit that the best team won the American League Championship Series last week, taking down Justin Verlander 4-1 in the elimination game as all of Boston’s four runs came on home runs.

The Red Sox didn’t swing at many bad pitches like most Verlander opponents do as they kept the ball in play during most of the series. Boston’s bull pen was better than Houston’s—at least for those five games.

Boston’s manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach for the last couple of seasons, seemed to make more correct decisions than his mentor, Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch.

So now the Astro’s hierarchy must start looking toward the 2019 season. The long-range plan by General Manager Jeff Luhnow was to rebuild the team that suffered through three seasons of more than 100 losses and to keep getting better each season.

And that’s what has happened for the last three years as the number of victories has escalated during that time.

But the basic plan got stymied this season after posting the most wins (103) in franchise history. The Astros were supposed to get to the World Series again, but it didn’t happen because the Boston Red Sox won more games than Houston and won their way to the World Series.

Improving over this season could present Luhnow with a major problem. It’s called free agency. Three of the five starting pitchers are big question marks for 2019.

Dallas Keuchel, who endured those 100 loss seasons as the ace of the pitching staff, says he wants to test the free-agent waters. He was partially responsible for the turn-around by winning enough games to earn the Cy Young Award in 2015, finishing the regular season with 20-8 and a 2.48 earned run average.

“I’ve given my heart and soul for seven full years, and I don’t know, this is the opportunity of a lifetime to be a free agent,” Keuchel was quoted in Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle. “I would more than love to be back here (in Houston). I’ve made that known since day one.”

Charlie Morton will also be a free agent after the final game of the World Series. He was on the mound when the Astros won the championship in 2017. The 34-year-old   considered retirement after this season, but after Game 5 last week, he said he wanted to return in 2019. He would like to return to the Astros.

One of the problems facing Houston is the money they would have to put up to keep both starting pitchers. Keuchel made $13.2 million while Morton made $7 million in the second of a two-year deal. Both pitchers would be due increases over those figures.

The third pitcher with a question mark for 2019 is Lance McCullers, Jr. who suffered during most of the season with an unknown malady. There are rumors he might need Tommy John surgery and might miss next season.

McCullers insists the injury he was battling was said to come from swinging a bat, according to Sunday’s edition of the Chronicle.

If Keuchel and Morton head to new teams and McCullers is out for the season, the Astros will have to revamp their starting rotation, which unquestionably was the best in the major leagues in 2018.

But it shouldn’t be too shabby in 2019 with Verlander and Gerrit Cole as the solid No. 1 and No. 2 starters, both of whom are tough to beat.

KWICKIES…The huge Big Ten 40-20 upset by Purdue over Ohio State helped most Top 10 teams to move up in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll. Alabama remained at No. 1 and Central Florida stayed at No. 10 while Clemson (No. 2), Notre Dame (No. 3), LSU (No. 4), Michigan (No. 5), Texas (No. 6), Georgia (No. 7) and Oklahoma (No. 8) all moved up one place while No. 9 Florida jumped two places. Former No. 2 Ohio State dropped to No. 11.

The Orangefield Bobcats, who rarely throw passes, tried one on a two-point conversion attempt at Friday night’s Homecoming game against Hardin Friday night in an attempt to tie the game in the waning seconds which bounced off the receiver’s hands, leaving the Bobcats with a heart-breaking 22-20 loss.

Houston’s leading hitter for the last few years, Jose Altuve, underwent right knee surgery Friday and is expected to recover fully and be ready to play for spring training. He missed 21 games during the regular season with what the team termed “right knee discomfort.”

The Houston Texans put their four-game winning streak on the line tomorrow against the Miami Dolphins on Fox’ Thursday Night Football. Quarterback Brock Osweiler returns to NRG Stadium as a starting quarterback in Houston, but this time in a Dolphins’ uniform. Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m.

Brooks Koepka won his third of 11starts at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in Jeju Island, South Korea moving up as the No.1 Golfer in the world. He has five PGA Tour victories, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

The Tennessee Titans’ first-year head coach Mike Vrabel is expected to get plenty of heat for deciding to go for a two-point conversion as time expired against the Los Angeles Chargers and losing 20-19 Sunday in London. The win would have put the Titans in a first-place tie with the Houston Texans in the AFC South Division.

JUST BETWEEN US…The two Texas National Football League franchises went the opposite way in Sunday’s action. The Houston Texans used a strong defense and took advantage of many Jacksonville mistakes to win on the road 20-7 for their fourth straight victory. As a result, Houston now leads the AFC South Division by a game. The Dallas Cowboys could be tied for first place in the NFC East Division with Washington if it wasn’t for the many miscues they made. Every time the Cowboys had a big play, it was nullified by an illegal procedure or holding. However, it was the seldom called illegal-snap on a field goal try that spelled doom for the Cowboys that moved them back five yards as Brett Maher’s 52-yard kick to tie the score in the final seconds “doinked” off the left goal post as Washington hung on for a 20-17 win. The hooking boot would have been good from 47-yards and would have sent the game into overtime.