H-Town Sports

Houston Sports Blog - Real sports cities have TWO Conference USA teams

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Weekend for the Ages

Going into Friday's games:

St. Louis 81-77
Houston 81-78 0.5 GB
Cincinnati 79-80 2.5 GB

While the Cards technically still control their own destiny, their streak of terrible play and unfavorable matchups make them the least likely team to win the NL Central, in my opinion. The Astros have clearly been white-hot, but their series at Atlanta will not be an easy one. The Reds have the most ground to make up, but without a doubt, their schedule is the most favorable, as Pittsburgh is a bad team who is playing badly .

Friday Night:
Capuano at Weaver - Obviously this appears to favor the Beermakers on paper, but Capuano has been less than stellar in September (5.73 ERA) and is winless in three starts against the Cards this season. Weaver, on the other hand, has posted a 4.03 ERA in five September starts and is 1-0 agains the Brewers this season with a quality start. Prediction: Brewers 7, Cards 3

Clemens at James - This is what the Rocket lives for. 2.57 ERA in September, and no starts v. the Brewers in '06. Chuck James is no Wandy Rodriguez. He's a talented lefty with a 10-4 record and a 3.94 ERA for the season, including a 3-1 September with a 3.73 ERA. He has been roughed up in his last two outings, however, at Colorado and at Washington. Possibly fatigue? Prediction: Astros 3, Braves 1

Harang at Duke - Harang is coming off a complete game win against the Cubs and is 2-1 in September with a 4.26 ERA (and 1.00 WHIP). He is 2-1 against the Pirates in '06 with a 4.68 ERA. Duke has been splendid in September, going 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA. He has not faced the Reds this year. Prediction: Reds 3, Pirates 2


Houston 82-78
St. Louis 81-78 0.5 GB
Cincy 80-80 2.0 GB

Sheets at Suppan - Sheets has been the Sheets of old lately, posting a 3.03 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in September. Suppan has been very solid in September, going 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA and is 1-0 in four starts against the Brewers with a 2.59 ERA. Prediction: Brewers 4, Cards 1

Sampson at Cormier - This year's Pete Munro is Chris Sampson, doing his best to induce ground balls for as many innings as possible until the bullpen takes over. The biggest difference has been that Sampson has been effective in this role, whereas Munro rarely was, as hard as he tried. This will be more pressure, however, than Sampson has ever faced in his major league career, without a doubt. Lance Cormier has been pitching very well lately, going 2-1 in September with a 3.22 ERA and has never faced the Astros. Sampson and a tired bullpen are not going to be enough this day. Prediction: Braves 6, Astros 3

Arroyo at McLeary - Bronson Arroyo deserves Cy Young consideration for the same reason as Roy Oswalt - consistent throughout the season and spectacular in September. Bronson is 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA in September. Not only will this be a big game for him because of the pennant race, it will also be against his old team. Arroyo is 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA against the Pirates this season, including eight great innings in a win just a couple of weeks ago. Marty McLeary is a 32 year-old righty making his second start of the season (and of his career). The Reds struggle early but overtake the Bucs' bullpen. Prediction: Reds 5, Pirates 1.

Sunday's Games:

Houston 82-79
St. Louis 81-79 0.5 GB
Cincy 81-80 1.0 GB

Villaneuva v. Carpenter - Villaneuva has been inconsistent, but he did shut the Cards out for seven innings just last week. If the Cards could pick anyone to pitch a must-win game for them, it would obviously be Carpenter. But Carpetner has been mortal of late, allowing six runs in each of his last two starts. In the end, though, you know he is going to bounce back in such a tight spot against a very mediocre team. Prediction: Cards 5, Brewers 2.

Pettitte v. Smoltz - Pettitte has been a rock for the Astros in the second half, with a 2.27 ERA in August and a 3.05 ERA in September. He has struggled with some elbow issues of late, causing him to leave one start early and push back another. He is 1-0 with a quality start against Atlanta this season. Smoltz is not exactly who the Astros want to face in this situation, or in any situation for that matter. He has quietly posted another dominant season, including a 3-2 September and a 3.48 ERA, and he shut the Mets out for seven innings last time out. He has not faced the Astros in '06, but was 1-0 against them in a great start in '05. This will be about as good as it gets in regular season baseball. Prediction: Braves 2, Astros 1 on a Chipper Jones home run off Trevor Miller in the eighth inning.

Belisle, et al. v. Youman, et al. - By contrast to the Astros/Braves, this is the anti-matchup for the ages. Both teams will likely use at least six pitchers in this one, with the offenses and bullpens deciding the fate of the game. Momentum is key, and the Pirates have lost a whole lot of games lately. Why stop now? Prediction: Reds 8, Pirates 5


St. Louis 82-79
Houston 82-80 0.5 GB
Cincinnati 82-80 0.5 GB

For one day only, fans of the Reds and Astros will cheer for the Giants as they never have before, as they take on the Cards in a make-up affair. Jason Schmidt is scheduled to pitch on Sunday for San Francisco and Matt Cain on Saturday, leaving a scheduled matchup of Anthony Reyes v. Jonathan Sanchez. More likely, Matt Morris would get the call against his old team, in poetic fashion. I'm not making a prediction on that game, but I will say that I do not think that the Cardinals will make the postseason this year...

What are your predictions for the weekend?

Thursday, September 28, 2006


ESPN cites free agent Bonzi Wells' agent as saying that the Rockets have agreed with his client on a two-year contract worth $5 million, the second year of which is a player option, meaning Bonzi could head back out to the market as an unrestricted free agent after this season. This offseason has not exactly been a financial windfall for Wells, who turned down a five year, $36 million offer from the Kings and then subsequently fired his agent.
It is quite hard to criticize this move for the Rockets, who clearly needed to add as much perimeter firepower as possible after last season's brickfest. In Battier, Wells and Steve Novak, the Rockets have added three players who have shown the ability to consistently knock down the outside shot, which will hopefully open up driving lanes for T-Mac and operating room underneath for Yao.

A quick look at the likely depth chart (with players certain to make the roster in bold):

PG: Alston, Sura (if healthy), Lucas
SG: McGrady, Wells, Snyder, Spanouillis, Jacobsen, Head
SF: Battier, Bowen, Novak, Azubuike
PF: Howard, Hayes
C: Ming, Mutombo

One would have to call Azubuike (and possibly even Jacobsen) a long shot to be on the opening night roster. And by the way, ESPN lists Snyder as slated to wear #99 this fall. I expect Snyder to get the bulk of the backup minutes at the 2 until he proves unworthy, and at 6'6", 225 lbs., he can also play some 3 as matchups permit.

There is clearly a glut in the Rockets' backcourt. Luther Head would appear to be the odd man out, possibly in a trade for some additional frontcourt depth. The starting lineup may be as listed above, but late in games, do not be surprised to see a lineup of Alston, Wells, McGrady, Battier and Yao. Bring in another banger to back up Yao and Deke, and this has the makings of a team who has no business finishing out of the top four in the Western Conference. This, of course, assumes good health, but the addition of Wells will help soften the blow if T-Mac's back flares up again. Yao, however, cannot miss any significant time if the Rockets hope to contend.

Wanna Be a Big League Manager?

Over and over and over and over...like a very, very bad recurring nightmare, Albert Pujols is allowed a chance to win a game by a big league manager who chooses to pitch to him with the game on the line rather than put him on base. Phil Garner could write the book on this phenomenon, if he chose to financially capitalize on his repeated ignorance on the matter, and now Bruce Bochy is qualified to write the prologue after pitching to Pujols in the 8th inning of a game that the Padres led by one run.

For the season:
- with RISP, Pujols is hitting .398 with a .539 OBP and .789 SLG
- with RISP and two outs, Pujols is even better - .455 avg, .600 OBP and .864 SLG
- 7th inning or later in close games, Pujols is hitting .310 with a .451 OBP and .789 SLG

It matters not which base is open - if ANY base is open, you MUST walk Albert. Instead, managers continue to test Albert's manhood, and Albert continues to respond as baseball's version of Ron Jeremy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Could This Really Happen?

A comment from Mark in response to my teeth-gnashing about the Texans:

"Why even discuss the Path-exans when the Stros are breathing down the Cardinals' necks? I doubt Detroit fans are talking about the Lions! Bring back Astros-talk!"

Valid point, and my excuse for silence about Houston's only winning team was simple. I didn't want to jinx what the 'Stros were doing. I was content to continue whistling past the graveyard while Garner & Co. clawed their way back to a shot at the postseason. I mean, I am the moron who declared them dead about a month ago (see toe tag image), but I still want nothing more than more October baseball from Uncle Drayton's boys. That said, I am nothing if not a tool (of the reading public, that is), so jinx be damned!

After being 8 1/2 games out of the NL Central lead a week ago, Houston has won seven straight to move a mere game and a half back of St. Louis. Much ado is being made of the Cardinals simultaneously dropping seven straight to allow the 'Stros to get back into it, as it should be. We may be witnessing the most epic collapse in baseball since the 1964 Phillies. But this isn't a blog on STL Sports, so let's turn our attention to the Astros' situation.

What the hell happened? For starters, it certainly helps that the Cards aren't very good. They have one starting pitcher worth a damn in Chris Carpenter, and even he's been shaky of late (witness last night's seventh inning meltdown for the alleged likely NL Cy Young winner). The Astros' far superior staff was on parade during the four-game sweep of the Cards this past weekend. A rotation of Carpenter, Suppan, Marquis, Reyes, and the Gas Can That Is Jeff Weaver doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of men. At the very least, it's no Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens, and the other two guys (I know it's Wandy and Hirsh, but their names do not belong in the same sentence as the other three).

But most importantly, the Astros have been hitting the daylights out of the ball when it matters most. If Lance Berkman isn't the most valuable player in the National League, he's surely the second most valuable behind Ryan Howard. And I'd argue that Howard has Chase Utley, whereas Berkman has the Peanut Dude. Regardless, Berkman has been Berkman, and he's finally getting some help from guys who haven't produced all year. My boy Craig Biggio, after much criticism (some of it admittedly deserved), has put together a nice streak of big hits over the past few games, with none bigger than his walk-off game-winning single last Friday against the Cardinals. Aubrey Huff has finally started to hit like T-Poo envisioned when he was acquired back in July. Luke Scott has continued his torrid hitting (.361 BA/.449 OBP/.675 SLG ) and has shown an uncanny patience at the plate, as well as a flare for the dramatic with his walk-off HR on Saturday night. Even Orlando Palmeiro (huge RBIs) and Jason Lane (timely HR against Philly) have gotten into the act. I thought there was a better chance of Gallo getting a September call-up than either of those two stiffs contributing. Shows what I know.

So the question is, can the Astros do it? I say yes, but it's obviously going to be very difficult and statistically mind-boggling. I think Houston has to win the next two against the Pirates and take two out of three from the Braves to have a shot. Even then, I believe a one-game playoff with the Cards is still in the cards. Although St. Louis can undoubtedly choke on the pressure of each pitch, I think they'll win just enough to go into their make-up game against San Francisco on 10/02/06 (which I do believe will become necessary). Assuming they win that, what happens next? One last head-to-head battle between Houston and St. Louis for all the divisional marbles. Where? Minute Maid Park, but virtue of T-Poo's victory in a coin flip a couple of days ago. And based upon what the 'Stros have shown us the last couple of weeks, there's simply no way you can bet against them in that scenario.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is the Texans Defense the Worst in NFL History?

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic as I sit here a day after the brutal 31-15 bloodletting that occurred at Reliant Stadium yesterday, but I don't think so. 495 yards of total offense for the Redskins. Are you freaking kidding me? Mark Brunell goes 24-27 for 261 yards and 1 TD after completing TWENTY-TWO PASSES IN A ROW? Even Mark Brunell's mother didn't think he was capable of that. Indeed, the only negative yardage the Redskins incurred on offense all day was when Brunell took a knee to let the clock mercifully expire at the end of the game. Or so I've heard. I don't really know, as I was weeping with my head in my hands at that point.

I have to admit, I thought the Texans were going to win yesterday. I thought the 'Skins would struggle to score, and that Kubiak's offense would put enough points on the board to win. And how smug I felt after Carr & Co. marched right down the field on their first possession (after, I might add, a stout three-and-out from Richard Smith's charges)! Then, in the true spirit of Texans football, the wheels came completely off. Clearly, I gave the Texans' putrid defense too much credit.

I'm not going to talk about the offense in this post. It had some problems (see, e.g., center-QB exchange), but it doesn't have near the egg on its collective face as the defense does. To label the Texans' defense a horrible disgrace would be too kind. I have NEVER seen a team more consistently out of position or just flat-out destroyed like the Texans were yesterday. If I didn't know better, I'd swear the secondary mailed it in. Either that, or they are just that awful. It was the single most disastrous performance I've ever seen by a group of defensive backs, and I'm including the intramural games played in college when our secondary would show up drunk and/or high. With regard to the pass rush, if anyone thought the pressure on Peyton Manning was nonexistent a week ago, how would you describe yesterday's "effort?" I've puzzled over this since yesterday afternoon, and here's my take:

Texans versus Manning:2000 Baltimore Ravens Defense::Texans versus Brunell:A Pop Warner Team of Comatose Six Year Olds.

Watching Brunell complete screen pass after screen pass and shovel pass after shovel pass was enough to make me wonder if Richard Smith was even watching the game. Seriously, the Redskins dinked the Texans to death for four quarters. The only adjustment that was made throughout the game was to my tab at the bar. Like the Redskins' offensive statistics, it just kept increasing exponentially. And the run defense...well, let's just say you've got a lot of problems when Ladell Betts rolls up 124 yards on 16 carries WHILE Clinton Portis is simultaneously gashing you for 86 yards on 16 carries (oh, and let's not forget Portis' additional two catches for 78 yards). Sweet Mariah.

I'm not going to say the season is over. That would be silly. After all, we've only played three games, and all three of the Texans' opponents were considered playoff contenders at the beginning of the year. But am I feeling confident about my 8-8 prediction for the hometown team? No. No, I'm not. Am I feeling increasingly nauseous about the prospect of picking in the top three come April? Yes. Yes, I am.

The Texans = The Anti-Bengals

Given the choice, would you rather "your team" be (a) a bunch of nice guys who represent their city and franchise with class and integriy but cannot win a game (or even stay within two touchdowns) or (b) a team whose roster is stocked with felons and substance abusers who win games in consistent and entertaining fashion (like rallying late on the road at Pittsburgh) but have trouble staying out of the slammer?

I've long claimed that I would choose the side of character and integrity, but another week or two like the past two, I think I might become a Bengals' fan. Aggie fans have to love that Reggie McNeal is hanging out with Odell Thurman and Chris Henry. That is definitely a smart career and life choice for R-Mac.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Could A-Rod be the Astros' Answer at Third Base in '07?

At first I figured this was just the Yankees being the Yankees and ESPN being ESPN, but the more I read, the more I wonder how much longer A-Rod and the Yankees will continue to be life partners. A-Rod is owed $27 million per year for the next four seasons, though he could opt out of his contract after next season and become a free agent, should he so desire. It is highly unlikely, it seems, that Rodriguez would exercise that option since there is no chance that any team in today's market would be willing to pay him anything close to $27 million per year for his services. Rodriguez is 31 years old and has struggled under the media microscope in the Bronx, and one wonders if a more laid-back atmosphere like Houston and even a change of leagues would help revitalize his career, as if 34 HR and 116 RBI are a bump in the road.

The question becomes multi-faceted, to say the least. Would the Astros be willing to foot the bill for the remainder of A-Rod's contract, and how much would the Yankees be willing to chip in to get A-Rod out of their hair? What package could the Astros put together to attract the Yankees' eye? If Clemens and Pettitte both returned in 2007 and A-Rod was added to the payroll, the Astros would be pushing $75 million in payroll with just A-Rod, Berkman, Oswalt, Pettitte and Clemens. However, without a doubt, adding A-Rod to the Astros along with the returning core of players would send revenues through the roof and instantly make the Astros the team to beat in the 2007 NL race. The Yankees have struggled mightily in the pitching department, and the Astros seem to therefore be a potentially good match.

I will refrain from going too far into the 'prospective deals' department, but would Lidge, Ensberg, Patton and Hirsh be too steep of a price to pay, if the Yankees chip in something similar to 30% of A-Rod's remaining salary? Admittedly, I am an A-Rod Hater and have been labeled a Prospect-Obsessor, but this is a deal that I make if I am the Astros, and I do not think that it is as far-fetched as I once thought it was, if you consider that the Orioles were close to pulling the trigger on a much lesser package for Miguel Tejada.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carr Ain't The Problem, Folks

Confession--I did not get to watch the Texans take on the Eagles on 09/10/06. I was on my way back from Austin after watching my beloved Horns receive a kick square in the pills from Ohio State. Nevertheless, I was nervously checking scoring updates on my phone and nearly swerved off the road when I saw Texans 10, Eagles 0. That score wouldn't hold up, of course, but I was eager to see how the pundits would review the Texans' performance in Kubiak's debut. The general consensus seemed to be that Carr looked better; the receivers looked good; Super Mario wasn't the immediate savior the Bush backers demanded he be; DeMeco Ryans was a stud; and the secondary was a disaster. Fair enough; none of that suprised me. Particularly the bit about the secondary. Anyone that watches the Texans knew that was going to be an area of concern this year, especially when Petey Faggins went down in training camp. As I watched the Texans in Indy yesterday, a few things came into focus for me. The biggest, believe it or not, is that David Carr is not the problem.

Scott penned a particularly biting analysis of David Carr last night, and as I expressed in the comments, I could not disagree more. Look at his numbers after two (2) games:

40-53, 75.5% completion rate, 427 yards, 4 TD, O INT, 123.7 passer rating.

Last year? He posted 256-423, 60.5% completion rate, 2,488 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 77.2 passer rating.

2004, during the team's high-water mark of 7-9? 285-466, 61.2%, 3,531 yards, 16 TD, 14 INT, 83.5 passer rating. That's been Carr's best season thus far.

If Houston fans can't see the marked improvement in those numbers, Carr has no hope of ever getting a fair shake in this town. I understand that two games is a small sample size, but if you had told any Texans fan before the season that those would be his numbers after the first two games of the season, you'd have been greeted with "No way!" and "That's awesome!" Instead, critics have seized on Carr's numbers being a result of garbage time and thus not a completely accurate indicator of his progress. That's a fair criticism, but it's similarly unreasonable to completely dismiss his statistics on that basis alone. Ultimately, he'll be judged on wins and losses, just like every player should be. But anyone that thinks he's the primary culprit for losses to the Eagles and Colts (two teams, by the way, that have to be considered playoff favorites) is nuts.

So where is the problem? Quite simply, it's in the much lamented secondary. Dunta Robinson is the only player who has the talent to be a starter in any defensive backfield in the league, and he hasn't played up to his potential yet. Lewis Sanders, C.C. Brown, and Glenn Earl have all gotten burned like they are related to Matt Stevens and Phillip Buchanon. Granted, the Colts' wide receivers may well be the best in the league, but there were far too many times that the Texans secondary just looked to be completely out of position. It seems clear that any team that can protect its QB is going to have a field day throwing down the field on the Texans.

The pass rush? Not as good as we hoped with the addition of Mario Williams and Anthony Weaver, but I did see reason for optimism. First off, they consistently closed the pocket. Anthony Weaver was a difference-maker. Unfortunately, they rarely laid a hand on the biggest freaking witch in the game today (and I mean that as a compliment), Peyton Manning. Is the pass rush that bad, or is he that good? Put me squarely in the camp of the latter.

The injuries to Spencer (or "Warren," as Scott would like to call him) and Flanagan hurt, but how nice is it to actually have the luxury of seemingly capable back-ups (McKinney, Salaam, Weary, and/or Winston) to plug in? The Texans have never been able to do that before. I really don't foresee a huge drop-off in O-Line play, which, by the way, seems improved this year. That may simply be a result of shorter drops and quicker throws, but the Texans did move it down the field yesterday far more than they did at any point last season.

I can't honestly believe I'm saying this, but I feel really good about my 0-2 team. It's not going to happen overnight. But I firmly believe that the Texans are on the right track.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Secondary may be the Texans' Most Immediate Problem, but QB is their Biggest

What does it take to get drafted as an NFL QB? Arm strength. Mobility. Touch. Size. Being able to "make all the throws" is absolutely a prerequisite for becoming an NFL starting QB, but it takes more than just that ability to develop from a "starter" to a "winner" as a QB in the NFL. What separates Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb from Heath Shuler, Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, David Klingler and Joey Harrington?

There is some magical combination of poise, confidence, leadership, determination, intelligence and discipline that allows a good young college QB to turn into a great NFL quarterback. Whatever that combination is, David Carr, two weeks into his FIFTH NFL season, has not shown that he has "it". Blame his O-line. Blame his offensive coaches. Blame the lack of a consistent running game. Blame whatever you want, but my opinion is that David Carr will never lead an NFL team to the playoffs.
Watch Peyton Manning pick apart opposing defenses, almost as if he knows their defensive scheme better than his opponents do. Watch Donovan McNabb make plays out of the pocket and rally his team to a late victory. Watch Brett Favre use his fiery on-field leadership to essentially will his team to a win. Watch Ben Roethlisberger sit in the pocket for an extra half-second, taking a big hit in order to make a crucial completion. David Carr does not have the intelligence or work ethic of Peyton Manning. He does not have the charisma or play-making ability of Donovan McNabb. He does not have the will to win or the fearlessness of Brett Favre. He does not have the poise and unwavering confidence of Ben Roethlisberger. He does not have the precision or grace under pressure of Tom Brady. Of course one cannot and should not reasonably expect David Carr to possess a multitude of these traits, but nearly every single team that achieves consistent success is led by a QB who exhibits at least one outstanding quality. David Carr, at his best, is an average quarterback. He is not a quarterback who will carry a team to victory on his own, but merely a QB whose team wins in spite of his play or indifferent to his play.

What quality does David Carr possess that indicates he will become one of the elite class of NFL QBs who lead their teams to annual playoff appearances and who win clutch games in December and January? I cannot think of one. Much has been made of the fact that Carr has not historically spend excess time in the video room or among his teammates. He often comes across as nonchalant and rather immature in his press appearances, and rarely, if ever does Carr place blame on his own broad shoulders. He speaks often of loving to "just get out there and play some ball", and unfortunately, he often seems to resemble an amateur backyard QB, trying to improvise on the fly rather than execute a well-prepared scheme. It was an extremely rare occasion when Carr steps up in the pocket on 3rd-and-long and makes a powerful, precise throw under pressure to make a successful conversion. The great ones also without fail tend to take losing personally and work tirelessly to get better, and David Carr seems almost indifferent to failure and has shown zero proof, at least publicly, that he is concerned with his own lack of improvement as a QB.

Here's my attempt at categorizing the current NFL starting QBs:

The Elite
Tom Brady
Carson Palmer
Peyton Manning
Donovan McNabb

The Young Guns
Daunte Culpepper
Ben Roethlisberger
Eli Manning
Michael Vick
Drew Brees
Jake Delhomme
Matt Hasselbeck
Mark Bulger

The Cagey Vets
Drew Bledsoe
Mark Brunell
Steve McNair
Trent Green
Jake Plummer
Brad Johnson
Brett Favre
Jon Kitna
Kurt Warner

The Others
Kerry Collins
David Carr
Jake Plummer
Aaron Brooks

The Question Marks
JP Losman
Chad Pennington (Above-Average when healthy)
Charlie Frye
Byron Leftwich - (somewhere between Other and Above-Average when healthy)
Phillip Rivers
Rex Grossman - appears headed for Young Gun status
Chris Simms - tenuously close to an Other
Alex Smith

Of the teams with an Other or a Question Mark at QB, only the Broncos, Jags and Bears are likely playoff teams. The Jags and Bears are dynamic defensive teams, and the Broncos have won before Jake Plummer's arrival and in spite of his play, and Jay Cutler will likely be the starter sooner rather than later. The Texans need a lot of work, but unless their defense quickly becomes Raven-esque or their running game becomes truly a mirror image of the Broncos, they will not join the NFL's elite. It appears that with Gary Kubiak at the helm, Bob McNair has been convinced that the Broncos' style of play can be installed in Houston such that the franchise can win games consistently in spite of David Carr's non-descript play, and that may prove to be true. Four-plus years into his career, David Carr has never shown signs of excellence, but at his best, has managed to look as if he could potentially blend into an NFL-caliber offense. In order for the Texans to become an annual playoff contender, they will need to find a QB who takes pride in his own development as a leader and a QB and who inspires his teammates to take the same approach themselves rather than a nice guy with a big arm. Until then, they can improve all other aspects of their team, but they will never be a real Super Bowl contender.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mr. Downs, Meet Satan - He'll be your Keeper for Eternity

Wow. Hat tip to Mike McCann at the Sports-Law Blog for this dastardly tale. These are the kind of stories that you make up as a ridculous hyperbole with your friends in a purely fictional hypothetical. Impossible to believe that this really happened. That said, after watching this guy perform under pressure, I think if I was the manager, I might want a whole lineup full of autistic children.

That Wild and Wacky John P. Lopez is at it again!

Never afraid to put himself out on that most precarious limb, the Chronicle's self-proclaimed handicapping genius is really making a bold prediction with his "sleeper" pick to go to the national championship game: Southern Cal. With wooly picks like this, it's a wonder that ESPN has not booted LC or Herbie off the GameDay set in favor of Aggie John.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

H-Town's Mr. 3,000

The Chronicle is abuzz (Ha! Get it?) today about the 3,000 lb. elephant in the Astros clubhouse these days. No, it's not whether Brad Lidge should be institutionalized for his own good every time a Pujols highlight rolls on SportsCenter. The question is, should the 'Stros keep playing Craig Biggio as he closes in on 3,000 hits despite his faltering production? And here's another less schmaltzy article from Lopez on the quandary facing the Astros.

I think this is an open-and-shut case. Craig Biggio has meant more to this franchise than anyone in Astros history. Yes, even more than Jeff Bagwell. Bidge has repeatedly taken less money to stay in Houston when he's been eligible for free agency; hell, he'll take less to stay here again. The man, a total pillar of the community and its baseball team, is a mere eighty-four (84) hits away from one of the most celebrated achievements in all of sport. He's been loyal to the organization when he didn't have to be, and it's time to return the favor.

Yes, I know Chris Burke should be playing every day. And I know he's probably the best second baseman on the roster. I'm also aware that Biggio has hit below the Mendoza Line on the road this season (.174 with a .246 OBP). I don't care. The Astros have a moral obligation to re-sign Craig Biggio and to give him enough opportunities to get to 3,000. You won't see me mention "moral" and "sports" in the same breath many times, but this is the exception to that rule. If getting Bidge to 3,000 means you platoon him, so be it. If that means he gets the nod at Minute Maid and sits out most of the road tilts, that's fine too. But it would be a complete disgrace for the organization to turn its back on someone who has never conducted himself with anything but class and dignity while embodying all that is right about baseball for nineteen (19!) seasons.

Professional sports are little more than an auction 99% of the time. Players generally go to the highest bidder, and that's their right. We here in the real world are no different. If a better job or more money exists elsewhere, the vast majority of us Joe Six-Pack types would go after it without giving it a second thought. It's one of the few parallels between professional athletes and the rest of the population. So when someone makes the conscious decision to chase the intangibles of happiness, family, and community over the benjamins, it should be celebrated. Craig Biggio did that. And now it's time for the Houston Astros to hold up their end of the bargain. I can tell you this, though--wherever Craig Biggio is when he's closing in on 3,000, I'm going to do my damndest to be in stands cheering him on. Regardless of the uniform he's wearing.

Not Again!

I hate Albert Pujols. Just when it seemed that Brad Lidge might be getting it turned around, the most famous receding hairline in St. Louis had to crap all over him again by hitting a walk-off double last night. What does Pujols want? Does he want to see Lidge break into tears on the mound? Start bleeding from the ears? Spontaneously combust?

Sure, Lidge had put two guys on ahead of him in the bottom of the ninth and the Cards are locked in a battle for the NL Central, but c'mon. You'd think Pujols would have done the Christ-like thing and kept the bat on his shoulder. That's what I do whenever the opposing pitcher has been knocked around in my softball games. But I guess I'm just a better human being than Albert Pujols.

NOTE--The 'Stros are really done now. I stand by the fact that it was over when they dropped the second game to the Reds to fall seven (7) games back in the wild card race a few weeks back, but it's truly over now. Allow the teeth gnashing over Mario Williams' desire and David Carr's suitability as a starting QB to begin in earnest.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Manhandled in Austin

It's been a rough week for football fans in Texas. The Texans and Cokeboys laid eggs (one of which I couldn't be happier with...the inevitable explosion in Dallas is imminent), and the state's flagship university lost for the first time in twenty-two (22) games. Scott did an excellent job breaking down the Texans' performance, leaving it up to me to analyze the disaster in Austin. And away we go...

1. I was one of those guys who thought the suspension of Tarell Brown would hurt the squad, but I didn't think it would prove to be a game-changer. I was dead wrong. From the outset, the Buckeyes took advantage of his absence. Everyone thought Ted Ginn, Jr. would be the guy to thrive (and he did have 5 catches for 97 yards with a TD), but who in the world knew that Anthony Gonzalez (8 catches, 142 yards, 1 TD) would wreak such havoc? Ohio State and Troy Smith (17-26, 292 yards, 3TD) did a superb job picking apart the Horns' depleted secondary. I can't tell you how many times it seemed like Aaron Ross, Brandon Foster, and Ryan Palmer were caught out of position or just flat out burned.

2. Michael Griffin was all over the field; it seemed like he was in on every tackle. He finished with 14 (10 solo), but I could have sworn he had about fifty, although I was admittedly seeing double by the second half. For that matter, Marcus Griffin did his best Michael Griffin impression with 12 tackles as well. Those guys may have gotten beat a time or two, but at least they wrapped up.

3. Brian Robison=Disruptive Stud. Had Scott been there, I'm confident he would have contemplated marrying him in much the same way he considered taking vows with a bratwurst and tortilla burger in Corpus.

4. EXCELLENT job containing the run by the Texas defense. Only 99 total rushing yards given up. For all the talk about Troy Smith being Lil' VY, he sure didn't run like him.

5. Great work running the ball by Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles. Frankly, I wonder why Greg Davis didn't ride them even more. He realized that he's got a redshirt freshman QB playing only his second game against the #1 team in the country, right? Right? To paraphrase Scott's idol Rick Pitino, Vince Young ain't coming through that door, Greg Davis.

6. That Ginn TD right before halftime sucked the life out of everyone in Austin. I had to really focus, keep my eye on the prize, and consume unhealthy amounts of toxins to counteract that punch to the gut.

7. Colt McCoy could have played better, sure, but everyone needs to realize that this was only his second start. He made some ill-advised throws; such is life with an inexperienced QB. It pains me to say it, but even Vince made a bad throw in his day. McCoy will get it, and the schedule provides him an opportunity to learn over the next few weeks before the Red River Shootout. That said, it is absolutely vital that Jevan Snead gets some reps in the upcoming Rice, Iowa State, and Sam Houston State games. I'm not advocating a return to the horrible days of the Simms-Applewhite hydra that haunted my collegiate life, but I would think Mack would want to get his back-up QB as much experience as possible so as to avoid having to throw another completely green freshman under center in the event of an injury to McCoy.

8. A word about the Ohio State fans...after the awful stories I heard about how Texas fans were treated last year in Columbus, I was eager to see how Buckeye supporters would be treated in Austin. From what I've heard and read, Texas fans did it right and showed extreme class. And that's completely deserved, because all the Buckeyes I ran into throughout the course of the weekend couldn't have been more courteous. I didn't encounter a single ill-mannered one throughout the weekend, and that includes after the game when gloating could have been grounds for fisticuffs.

9. Don't get me wrong--the Horns were completely dominated. But Ohio State is a helluva team. There's a reason they are ranked #1 in the country. No need to start wringing hands yet, Burnt Orange Nation. We'll still win the conference.

Thoughts on the Texans-Eagles

- The first offensive and defensive drives were sensational, and like a puppet, I told my wife that it was clear that "this year's going to be different". Turns out I was wrong, but I am not as negative as many (which is admittedly odd).

- The crap about Mario Williams being "unenergetic" or "uninspired" is hilarious. You want inspired? Draft Tony Robbins. You want energetic? Draft Jim Cramer. I want a large, powerful, athletic defensive lineman with the potential to create havoc for opposing offenses for the next decade. I want Mario Williams.

- If I have to hear how many "all purpose yards" Reggie Bush had on Saturday one more time, I am going to spew my lunch on my desk. You want "all purpose yards"? Draft Dave Meggett. If Reggie Bush proves to be LaDanian Tomlinson or Barry Sanders, then the Texans MAY have made a mistake, but only if Gary Kubiak cannot pull another Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson or Reuben Droughns out of his hat, which I am confident that he can.

- For those who believe that I am an un-objective hater of David Carr, read this: David Carr had a nice game. For several flashes, he looked like a genuine NFL starting QB. He sat in the pocket, made a couple of reads and threw the ball downfield. I am sure that his refusal to do this over the past few years is not entirely his fault, thanks to an unimaginative coaching staff, a bad offensive line and marginal receiving targets. However, I truly believe that much of the blame should be placed on David, and if only for a week, he appeared to shake the dust off and look to make plays downfield. It truly is amazing how forgotten of a man Andre Johnson has become. Eric Moulds was also a valuable target on Sunday, and if the Texans can mix in Owen Daniels or Jeb Putzier somewhat regularly, there is no excuse for David Carr not to average nearly 250 yards a game through the air.

- The running game was bad, but not as bad as the blitz pickup. On passing plays, the running backs looked lost trying to locate their blocking assignments, and on running plays, the line rarely provided any semblance of a gap for the back to hit. I would not expect this to get much better on Sunday in Indy, but the Giants did run for nearly 300 yards on the Colts' D, and the Texans' must know that their only hope of staying within 20 points is to shorten the game and run the ball, so I imagine they'll give it their best shot.

- Dunta Robinson is outstanding, and Lewis Sanders had a nice game at the other corner. The linebackers, led by Pro Bowler-to-be DeMeco Ryans, were solid as well. The defensive problems were nearly all rooted on the line, where there was no run stopping or pass rush to be found. With the depth and talent that the Texans seem to have generated up front, one would think that this would be an isolated incident. If not, this is going to be a verrrrrry long season.

- Charles Spencer did not impress. Of course, it was his first game, and the Eagles ends (Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse) are high-quality. However, Spencer's struggles do not bode well for Sunday when Dwight Freeney lines up on the other side of the ball. At least it's not Victor Riley, eh? Spencer seems to have all the tools to develop into a very good left tackle in the NFL, but with Jevon Kearse, Dwight Freeney, Andre Carter and Jason Taylor in his first four weekends, Charles' learning curve is going to be awfully steep.

[Mighty MJD] Andy Reid Calls his Shot

We'll discuss the Texans-Eagles game more in-depth later today, but for a quick synopsis of how much the Eagles owned the Texans, take a look at this amazing footage, courtesy of The Mighty MJD's blog. Not only did C.C. Brown bite down harder than yours truly on a Brooks Kieschnick burger, but Andy Reid seems to have known before the play what the result was going to be, as this video picks up.

[EDSBS] #1 Sign that Fowler/Herbstreit do NOT have a Vote

Apparently GameDay for the upcoming historic slate of college football games has been moved at the last minute from Knoxville (Florida-Tennessee) to L.A. (Nebraska-USC), which, not so coincidentally, is the site of the ABC Game of the Week. That's disgraceful. I would argue that Notre Dame-Michigan and LSU-Auburn both rank ahead of Nebraska-USC, and so would Miami-Louisville if the Canes had not lost to Free Shoes U., as would Clemson-FSU if Clemson had not lost to BC.

I had been wondering how the GameDay set would be affected if the pregame show was located at a game other than the the ABC primetime game since Herbstreit is now part of the three-man booth for the ABC primetime games. Guess either we'll have to wait another week to find out, or we can be certain that the GameDay crew will be at the site of every ABC primetime game.

Thanks to Every Day Should Be Saturday for the tip.

Friday, September 08, 2006

All Hat, No Cattle

For the first time in ten years, #1 and #2 will meet in the regular season when the Ohio State Buckeyes invade Austin this Saturday. The Longhorns will put their 21 game win streak on the line in their second all-time match up with Ohio State. Much of the chatter surrounding this years’ game has focused on non-issues like UT suspending Terell Brown, the weather, or the number of Buckeyes fans traveling to the game. These irrelevancies will make about as much difference to the outcome as “The 'Shoe! At night!” did last year. As a UT legend told the official after the coin toss against A&M, “It don’t make a shit.”

This game, like every game, is about match-ups and execution. Troy Smith throws as pretty a pass as anyone in college football. He was nothing less than perfect last week. Ted Ginn Jr. was unstoppable as well with 123 yards on just 4 catches last week. Against Texas last year, he had only 9 more yards than Ted Ginn Sr. in Jim Tressel's laudable effort to set up six field goal attempts. The Longhorn defense returns 9 starters. Unfortunately for Buckeye fan, expect the second year under Gene Chizik to be better than the first. Look for Chizik to exploit OSU’s inexperienced interior line with a variety of blitzes. Sure, Troy Smith is a fighter. Ginn and Gonzales give them a puncher’s chance, but UT is stronger than 40 acres of mowed garlic on defense. Smith is in for a long day, if not a short one.

The Buckeyes lost 9 starters on defense. They looked more than a little suspect against the run last week. Colt McCoy and Texas looked steady, but not spectacular, last week in a purposefully pedestrian gameplan. Look for Jamaal Charles to run faster than small town gossip outside the tackles and into the secondary. Mark it down--UT will score on an end around as the playbook continues to open up. Colt will make some big throws and continue to manage the game.

Neither of these teams has proven it belongs in the top twenty yet. But I'm calling it--Texas will put this one away in the third quarter in a 27-13 win. The game won’t live up to the hype because the Swing State Aggys are just flat out what-a-burgered.

Also, take Illinois and the points.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hooks Continue to Sink

AAA: Memphis 3, Round Rock 1 (12) - A great night of pitching for the Express, but the offense did not hold up their end of the bargain. Chris Sampson and Mark McLemore, in particular, pitched great. Why Sampson is not getting more of an opportunity in Houston is beyond me. Last night he threw three innings of hitless relief and struck out six. During his brief stint in Houston, he pitched effectively as well. Too bad he is not left-handed; then, I guess, he'd be a permanent member of your rotation, no matter his ERA.

AA: San Antonio 7, Corpus Christi 0 - The Hooks continue to stagger towards the postseason. Troy Patton was average, at best, and Hunter Pence and Tike Redman each provided two hits. Redman is now hitting .385 in his last nine games and, in my opinion, would have been a much more logical call-up than Charlton Jimerson.

High A: Salem and Wilmington were rained out.

Low A: Lexington and Hickory were rained out.

Short Season A: Brooklyn 4, Tri-City 3 - Four innings of great relief from Bud Norris in the loss. Norris has 46 K's in 38 IP and has allowed only 13 BB's and 1 HR.

Rookie: Greeneville's season has ended.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-5 against the White Sox, extending his hitting streak to nine games. Aubrey Huff was benched against LHP Doug Davis and recorded an out in a pinch-hitting appearance. Despite recording 23 RBI in August, Huff is still hitting just .198 (with a .324 SLG) with RISP.

Official Predictions for the Defending National Champions

As we sit here slightly more than 24 hours away from the defending national champions taking the field against North Texas, it's time for me to memorialize my predictions for the Horns' chances this year. I have to admit that I've been back and forth on how I think the team will do.

Vince's departure from the Forty Acres not only left me a shell of the man I once was; it also transformed the Horns from favorites to repeat to just another pseudo-contender. With Colt McCoy or Jevan Snead starting at QB, I thought Mack was looking at a definite two-loss season (Ohio State and Dirt Burglar Community College) with the possibility of dropping another one to a conference also-ran (heeeeelllllllllooooo, Texas Tech!). But I don't see things shaping up nearly as negatively now.

Rhett Bomar opted to pursue a career in fraud instead of football, single-handedly crippling the Dirt Burglars' season. McCoy and Snead have looked good in practice. The Horns return sixteen (16) starters. The monkey is off Mack's back. Preseason favorite Ohio State is breaking in a ton of starters on defense, and media darling Notre Dame has as tough a schedule as you're likely to see. I've rethought my outlook. Without further ado, here's my take on how the Texas Longhorns' 2006 schedule will break down:

1. North Texas (W)
2. Ohio State (W)
3. at Rice (W)
4. Iowa State (W)
5. Sam Houston State (W)
6. Big Red Motors University (W)
7. Baylor (W)
8. at Nebraska (L)
9. at Tech (W)
10. Okie State (W)
11. at K-State (W)
12. A&M (W)

Thus, I'm calling 11-1 for the good guys. I am sure I will take some heat for picking the Horns to lose to Nebraska, but allow me to present my rationale. By the time they play on 10/21/06, I think the Horns will be 7-0 and the Huskers will be 6-1, with their sole loss being to USC. The game will be played in Lincoln, and it will represent the first time McCoy (or Snead, but in all likelihood McCoy) has to play in a truly hostile environment. I think the crowd will make things difficult for Texas' young QB, and the missteps will be magnified. It just smells like the sort of game where Nebraska gets some momentum and hangs on to win at the end. I'm not sold on Bill Callahan, but I do believe that the game will be the sole blemish on the Horns' regular season. I still like the Horns to repeat as Big XII champs in a revenge title game against the Huskers. But do they make a return to the national championship game? No. The Horns will be one of a handful of one-loss teams, and I see them on the outside looking in when it comes to playing for the big one. A BCS bid is surely in the cards, but I don't see a second straight shot at the title.

What's Ben Zobrist Done For Me Lately?

From Richard Justice's blog today:

"Aubrey Huff leads the Astros with 23 RBIs this month."

I had no idea. I feel fairly certain that Ben Zobrist wouldn't have ripped out 23 RBI in August. In fact, Scott's fetish is actually only hitting .229 (with an OBP of .259) since his call-up to the Devil Rays. By way of comparison, whipping boy Adam Everett is hitting .241 for the season (.291 OBP) and has continued his stellar defensive play in the field. I'm officially reevaluating my stance on the trade as the Astros continue their push to the playoffs. I'll keep everyone posted on my conclusions.