Sure, the Astros Are Run by Geniuses (But How Do We Really Know?)

Categories: Baseball, Sports

This is great publicity, but how do we know the Astros are really getting better?
Time and time again Houston Astros fans are told not to worry about the state of the franchise. The team's run by geniuses, by literal rocket scientists. The smartest men in the room who can outthink every other team in MLB, and in doing so, are turning the Astros into a state-of-the art franchise that is the envy of the majors.

General manager Jeff Luhnow wins every trade, signs only players who fit in with the team's analytic plans -- why, Luhnow's so smart that MLB is considering outlawing infield shifts because of the Astros' outstanding success in employing the defensive tactic. Luhnow and his staff are so smart that they resurrected the career of starting pitcher Collin McHugh by showing him how to pitch. And without a doubt, the downfall of Lucas Harrell's career has to be traced by his ignorant denial of everything Luhnow.

But here's the thing: How does anybody really know if the genius of Luhnow is working? The Astros have been one of the worst teams in baseball during his entire tenure at the helm. For the most part, he and his regime had zero to do with acquiring the players on the Major League roster who are succeeding. Jose Altuve, George Springer and Dallas Keuchel were all brought to the Astros while Ed Wade was the general manager. And while the Astros didn't lose 100-plus games last season and didn't finish in last place in the AL West, a lot of that can only be traced to the epic implosion of the Texas Rangers.

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The Houston Cougars Are One of the Best College Baseball Teams in the Country

Categories: Baseball, Sports

John Royal
The Cougar Red infield dirt at Cougar Field
The Cougar Red infield dirt at Cougar FieldThe University of Houston is a baseball school. There might be a nice shiny new football stadium, but the football team doesn't sell it out. The men's basketball program has a new, big name head coach. But the facility sucks, the team's awful, and nobody comes to the games.

But fans are packing Cougar Field to watch the nation's third-ranked baseball team play some of the best college baseball in the country. The Cougars made the Super Regionals last season, making the team one of the best 16 squads in the nation. It's ranked this season, and this past weekend it took two of three games from one of the country's other nationally ranked programs, Alabama.

The Cougars are 6-2 so far this season, and this weekend the team hosts Columbia for a four game series that promises to offer up some exciting baseball. And that's the thing about the Houston Cougars, it is an exciting baseball team. There are UH players who can slug massive home runs, and there are players who can steal bases, and will, in the blink of an eye. There's good pitching, good defense.

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Alex Rodriguez's Handwritten Apology Letter to You, Baseball Fan

It feels like it's been so long since Alex Rodriguez has been part of our lives, I had almost forgotten he existed. I knew there was a reason why food tasted slightly better, sleep was slightly more sound and the air was slightly fresher the past year or so -- NO A-ROD!

However, it's time to come to grips with reality. Alex Rodriguez, however old and out of shape he may be, is coming back mostly because it's the only way he will collect his $61 million the Yankees still owe him. His suspension is over.

Also, he wants you to know that he's sorry for what he did and lied about multiple times. In fact, he wrote to apologize to you yesterday....

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SNL Anniversary Special Triples NBA All Star Game Rating (w/ Eddie Murphy SNL VIDEO)

Screengrab, Yahoo
In some ways, it's never been easier to be a couch potato. There's more good TV than there's ever been, and so long as you have a DVR with the proper wherewithal to record multiple shows at any one time, you can relax and binge watch for days on end.

However, the decisions on what to watch in first run have never been more difficult. Sports would seem to be the default "live watch" because it's real and it's immediate and it's nearly impossible to avoid spoilers if you function as a human being on a remotely normal basis in 2015.

However, with the advent of social media, all it takes is one dickhead to ruin a drama or comedy running first time, so the sporting event had better be compelling if it's going to beat out first run dramatic or comedic endeavors.

So on a crowded Sunday night, was the NBA All Star Game compelling enough to trump NBC's 40th anniversary special for Saturday Night Live? Well, Monday we got our answer...

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Happy Presidents' Day! 5 Great Presidential Sports Moments (w/ VIDEO)

ESPN via YouTube Screenshot
It's Presidents' Day, a semi-fabricated holiday made up by somebody who got tired of giving us days off on both Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. Those were good times, and they've been ruined by one morphed-together holiday where Washington and Lincoln are now each getting just a little bit screwed.

I know how they feel. My older two children were born on my birthday 17 years ago. I'll let you take one guess as to whose birthday gets jammed at the back of the line every year in our family. Yep, old pops!

So George and Abe, I feel you, man. Let's see if we can't properly celebrate you and your presidential ilk in a post here today. How about five of the greatest presidential sports moments in our nation's history?

Sound good? Okay...

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Rice Splits With Texas to Start a New Baseball Season

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Are you ready for some college baseball?
The Rice Owls opened this college baseball season the same way it ended last year's college baseball season, by losing a game to the Texas Longhorns. Of course, yesterday's 4-3 loss to Texas didn't end Rice's season the way last year's loss in the NCAA Regionals did, but one would not be faulted for thinking it was the same thing all over again.

The Owls won two of four games against the Horns over the weekend. Three of the four games featured outstanding pitching -- Rice's pitchers recorded 17 strikeouts alone in yesterday's loss. Rice also led Texas for most of every game, watching late inning defensive miscues key the two losses. Then there was the familiar bit about Rice continuously having base runner after base runner after base runner, yet failing to score.

"We just didn't get the big hit when we needed it today," Owls head coach Wayne Graham said after yesterday's loss. "One hit with runners in scoring position and we're really in business. It felt like we were going to win anyway though, but it just didn't work out."

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MLB Tries to Speed Up the Game

Categories: Baseball, Sports

MLB has a cunning plan to speed up the pace of games, which means it'll never be adopted
Baseball fans agree on few things, but if there's any one thing upon which all fans agree, it's that most games take too damn long to play. Major League games, which took an average of two hours and 50 minutes in 2010, lasted more than three hours last season. And this can't be blamed on an offensive explosion with home run after home run followed by pitching change after pitching change.

Reports trickled out last week that things might be changing, starting in the minor leagues, but hopefully soon moving up to the majors. The biggest change would be a pitch clock, proposed for use in the AA and AAA minor leagues this upcoming season, positioned at various locations around the stadium. The pitcher will have 20 seconds to make the pitch, and if he doesn't, then a ball will called by the umpire. Tied into this would be enhanced enforcement of the rule stating that batters must keep one foot in the batter's box at all times.

These are all good steps that will help to move baseball along at a crisper pace. It's stuff, however, that can actually be done now. Rule 6.02(d)(1) states that a batter must keep one foot in the box at all times -- there are exceptions, of course. And Rule 8.04 states that a pitcher has 12 seconds to throw a pitch once the batter is in the box. If the batter is outside the box and delaying a pitch, then a strike is supposed to be called on the batter. If the pitcher takes longer than 12 seconds, then a ball is supposed to be called.

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Astros Trade for Slugger but Don't Really Improve the Team

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Not really sure about how trading for Evan Gattis makes this whole 2017 World Series champ thing happen
You're in a casino in Vegas, one on the Strip, something like Planet Hollywood. And you're at one of the $15 minimum blackjack tables. The dealer's cute, the table's friendly enough, everyone's getting along and joking and having a good time. You're only betting the minimum, but that's no big deal. The chips in front of you are slowly piling up and you're building up a slight profit for the night, making up for what you've lost on various other activities during the day.

That's when the dude shows up. You know, the smart guy with the bro-hipster facial thing going on who thinks he knows everything about blackjack and has his own system worked out. He's kind of drunk but he thinks he's in total control. He keeps bragging about this system of his, but he loses hand after hand and he starts getting flustered. He bitches at the lady on his right for not playing properly and starts loudly contradicting the advice the dealer gives out because she's just a stooge of the casino and if you'll just listen to him you'll hit it big.

Eventually the dude's shouting at the woman and calling the dealer an idiot and the guy to the dude's left has enough and tells the dude to shut up and there's more shouting and then security shows up and escorts the dude away. But the vibe's gone. The dealer's still cute but not flirting. The mood's down. And you start losing and then you just get up and leave before all of your money's gone.

The Houston Astros think they're the smartest team in baseball. They've supposedly figured out angles no one's ever thought of and they're going to build a baseball dynasty derived in part from strategy used to play blackjack. But they're approaching the slightly-drunk-dude-with-the bro-hipster-facial-hair status. They may think their system is the best in the world, but they've yet to actually prove it can do anything besides get big write-ups and cover stories in national sports magazines.

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The Craig Biggio Memory Tour Brings Us to Art Howe

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Who out there remembers Art Howe as manager of the Astros?
Craig Biggio's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame got me to thinking about Biggio's early years in the majors, and the switch he made from catcher to second base. Art Howe was the Astros manager at this time, and he was the one tasked with implementing general manager Bill Wood's vision for prolonging Biggio's career while still allowing the team to make the best use of Biggio's abilities.

The popular perception of Art Howe is a grotesque caricature from the movie Moneyball that was cobbled together by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bennett Miller, and Aaron Sorkin (and if you ask Howe, Billy Beane). He's the old-fashioned baseball guy who can't grasp the genius of his boss Billy Beane and refuses to acknowledge the usefulness of statistics. He's obsessed with getting a contract extension, he won't play Scott Hatteberg, and he's a credit hog who eagerly accepts the accolades for the great season put together by the 2002 Oakland A's.

This perception is, of course, wrong. Art Howe and Billy Beane had issues and a sometimes contentious working relationship. But Howe managed the A's for seven seasons, guiding the team to the playoffs his last three. He didn't obsess over his contract, and he did play Hatteberg. But every movie needs a villain, and the filmmakers of Moneyball decided that Howe's character was the one best suited to voice the baseball establishment's views of Beane and his crazy idea -- Michael Lewis' book does Howe no favors in that it fashions Howe as a clueless button-pusher following Beane's commands.

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In All of the Craig Biggio Talk, Let's Not Forget About Bill Wood

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Congrats to Craig Biggio
That moment for which Houston sports fans have been eagerly awaiting ever since Craig Biggio was thrown out trying to stretch his 3,000th hit into a double has finally arrived. A player from the Houston Astros is finally being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Biggio, unlike Joe Morgan and Nolan Ryan, will proudly wear an Astros cap on his hall plaque. Randy Johnson, who spend about three magical months in Houston in 1998, was also inducted, but he'll wear the cap of one of his other teams.

It's an honor well-deserved for Biggio, one of the greatest players in franchise history, and one of the greatest second baseman in major league history. He got over 3,000 hits, was a doubles machine, won gold gloves for his defensive play, and was also an All Star while playing at catcher, his original position.

The odds are increasingly in favor of Biggio's teammate Jeff Bagwell, the greatest player in team history, making the Hall of Fame in the next three years. And there's also the chance that another teammate of Biggio's, pitcher Curt Schilling, could be inducted.

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