Astros rise to glory

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The Houston Astros survived the grueling American League postseason and advanced to the World Series for just the second time in franchise history.

The Astros proved to have one of the most balanced ball clubs all season and have more than made up for a disappointing 2016.

The last time Houston made it this far was in 2005. The NL Champions fought valiantly in each game but were swept by the Chicago White Sox and fell short of their first title in franchise history. More than a few things have changed in 12 years; this includes the uniforms the Astros wear as well as the league they play in.

In baseball, it’s usually rare if more than one team finishes the season with 100 wins or more. The Astros were one of three teams to reach the century mark in 2017 with 101. The Cleveland Indians won 102 and their World Series foe Los Angeles Dodgers collected 104. It will be the first fall classic that features two teams with 100 or more wins since the Orioles and Reds met for it all in 1970.

Since the determination of home field advantage for the World Series was just recently changed to team performance opposed to the outcome of the All-Star Game, Games 1 and 2 will be played in LA along with 6 and 7 if necessary. This will be a different approach for the Astros, who maintained that advantage throughout the American League playoffs.

The Dodgers have been rolling throughout the postseason and just knocked off the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs in just 5 games. Houston, however, almost met their match in the New York Yankees. The young Yanks gave it everything they had and defeated the Astros three straight times in the Bronx. Luckily, the Astros seemed to have everything figured out at Minute Maid Park. The Yankees managed to score just three runs in their 0-4 stretch in Houston.

The Astros will obviously have to win at least 1 road game if they wish to call themselves champions of baseball for the first time. As dominant as they were at home was as lost as they were on the road in the ALCS. They surrendered 19 runs in Yankee Stadium and will have their work cutout for them against another dangerous lineup in LA.

Like any series, the Astros will need to take this one game by game and play better on the road. They’ll have a chance to steal a road win right away, and that will be their focus in LA. Aces from both clubs started Game 1 last night. This included Dallas Keuchel for Houston and Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers. Both pitchers have won Cy Young Awards, but neither a championship.

The Astros will have a solid chance to steal a road win in Game 2. ALCS hero Justin Verlander will get the call for Houston against LA’s Rich Hill. Verlander has been essentially unhittable throughout the postseason, boasting an ERA of 1.46 and a 4-0 record.

The World Series will return to Houston for Game 3 on Friday at 7. Game 4 will take place on Saturday with Game 5 on Sunday if necessary. Whatever happens to begin the series in LA, it will be a wild weekend at Minute Maid Park.

Elliot, Cowboys sprint by Niners

A matchup with the winless 49ers couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for a struggling Dallas team.

The Cowboys, who are uncertain about the immediate future of star running back Ezekiel Elliot, posted 40 points and likely gained back some much-needed confidence.

I don’t know when Elliot will serve his suspension and neither does anyone else. For now, he’s an active member of the Cowboys and he made sure the fans in San Francisco knew it on Sunday. Elliot logged 219 yards from scrimmage and tied a career-high with 3 touchdowns against the lowly Niners. The Cowboys evened up their record at 3-3 and will play a crucial divisional game in Washington next week.

The Patriots improved to 5-2 with a win over the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last year’s legendary Super Bowl. New England didn’t quite need 31 points in the final 16 minutes this time around. Instead, they took it to Atlanta in all facets of the game and shutout Matt Ryan until late in the final quarter.

This was far and away the best defensive game of the season for the Patriots. It was the first time they didn’t allow the opposing quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards are more and they did it without two starters in the secondary. Tom Brady will always score, but the NFL has a problem if the defense in New England is as capable as 2016.

Atlanta seemed to be poised for another run at the Super Bowl after they began the season 3-0, but 3 straight losses have brought them back down to earth. The Falcons went scoreless for about a game and a half before they finally posted a touchdown in garbage time. There are too many weapons on this team for them to look this lost on offense. Forget the Super Bowl, Atlanta will have to turn it around if they wish to make the playoffs again.

The Chicago Bears shocked the league with their second straight victory over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Despite possessing the ball for nearly 40 minutes and recording 15 more first downs than the Bears, Carolina could never finish a drive and were kept out of the end zone all day. Chicago’s rookie safety Eddie Jackson returned an interception and a fumble for a touchdown in the first half to seal the deal.

Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is now 2-1 as a starter, but only threw the ball 7 times on Sunday. If it weren’t for a 70-yard completion to Tarik Cohen, his numbers would’ve been non-existent. The defense won’t always be so dominant, so the rookie needs to find ways to move the football if the Bears hope to stay alive in a wide-open NFC North.

The Raiders and Chiefs matched up for possibly the best showdown of the week. The game took place on Thursday and Oakland was desperate to avoid their fifth straight loss. Derek Carr ended up slicing the Kansas City defense for more than 400 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the waning seconds.

Alex Smith and the Chiefs proved they’re still capable of scoring points, but the Kansas City defense is nowhere to be found. The team that started the year 5-0 is suddenly 5-2 with reality surrounding them in a tough AFC West. As productive as Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt have been, the Chiefs defense needs to step up if they wish to remain a serious contender.

We’re now almost at the halfway point in the 2017 regular season and there are probably more questions than when we started. Injuries and inconsistent play continues to disrupt the usual order of things and just about every division is still wide open for the taking. As we get into the later weeks, we should get a feel for the teams who will rise to the top and seriously contend for the next Lombardi Trophy.

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