Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Houston 24, Tulsa 14

Just when you thought the Coogs were done winning games for the season, they go to Tulsa and come back with a win, thanks mainly to surprisingly strong defensive play.

The Good: Cougar defense and special teams. The defense recovered four Tulsa turnovers, including cornerback Damarion Williams's interception of a Golden Hurricane pass for a pick six. The defense also shut down Tulsa's running game (more on this below) and sacked Golden Hurricane QB Zack Smith four times.

Early in the fourth quarter, when Tulsa scored to pull to within three, Marquez Stevenson responded with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown which would end up being the game-sealing score. Punter Dane Roy, meanwhile, averaged 44.4 yards on his eight punts, keeping Tulsa pinned deep within their own side of the field for much of the game.

The Bad: Cougar offense. Quarterback Clayton Tune only completed 8 of 12 passes for 89 yards and no touchdowns (he did run for a score, which turned out to be Houston's only offensive touchdown). The UH offense was an anemic, converting only two of 13 third down attempts, and the Cougars' total offensive output of 231 yards was their lowest of the season. Tulsa spent a lot of time in Houston's backfield; while they only sacked Tune once, they did record ten tackles for loss.

The Ugly: Tulsa's running game. They had -1 rushing yard for the entire game. That's not a typo. that's "negative one." In addition to those four sacks, the Coogs recorded six TFLs.

What It Means: I wouldn't read too much into this win - Tulsa is not a good team - but it's still a bright spot to an otherwise disappointing season.

The Cougars close the season against Navy (ranked #24 in both the AP and coaches' polls) at home on Saturday.

North Texas 14, Rice 20

Last Saturday was a sunny and cool November day - a perfect afternoon for football. So I went over to Rice Stadium, hoping to see the Mean Green secure bowl eligibility with a victory over one-win Rice. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned.

The Good: Down 20-0 at halftime, North Texas rallied to score 14 unanswered points while holding the Owls scoreless the entire second half. Quarterback Mason Fine and running back Tre Stiggers both scored rushing touchdowns, and UNT special teams recovered an Owl fumble on a punt return deep in Rice territory midway through the fourth quarter to keep hopes of a UNT win alive.

The Bad: North Texas botched the ensuing drive, as a holding penalty and three incomplete passes by Fine (who had a rather mediocre day, completing only 17 of 32 passes for 163 yards, no touchdowns and one interception) prevented the Mean Green from reaching the endzone. Rice recovered the ball on downs and ran out the clock to secure the win.

The Ugly: The first half. The Mean Green were outgained by Rice 228 yards to 51; North Texas didn't even record its first first down of the game until the 2:28 mark of the second quarter! The lone bright spot for UNT in the first half was the recovery of a Rice fumble - and they fumbled the ball back to Rice one play later!

What It Means: A 2019 season that was supposed to see North Texas compete for the C-USA west title will end in disappointment, as the Mean Green have assured themselves of a losing record. The Owls have won consecutive games for the first time since 2016.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Starchitects, high-rises and Quito

I recently wrote about the potentially transformative effect of a new subway in Quito, Ecuador. One of the subway's intended effects is to create density by encouraging more high-rise construction around stations. Architectural Digest explains how some of the world's top architects are participating in that transformation: "Initiated by an enterprising local developer and fueled by a revised zoning code and new transit-oriented development incentives, Quito is shaping up to be a starchitect’s next frontier."
The urban shift in Quito started with a relocation. In February 2013, the municipal government moved the entirety of Quito’s 1960 Mariscal Sucre International Airport from the dense residential and commercial neighborhood that had grown around it to an agricultural area 12 miles away. The previous location of the airport (now being transformed into a large park) had capped surrounding building heights at four stories. A revised zoning code now allows towers in the city up to 40 stories, though air rights must be purchased from the government.
As fun as it was to watch the planes fly overhead on their final approach to the old airport - I used to sit at the window and watch the 747s of Lufthansa and KLM, the DC-10s of Iberia, the colorful 707s of Ecuatoriana and even the droning Lockheed Electra turboprops of TAME - the flight path was rather treacherous, given the city's geography. It was also rather loud. Quito's new airport is larger, with a longer runway and a flight path the does not require you to land in the middle of a city crammed up against a volcano.
Recognizing the new potential to build taller and better, Quito-based development company Uribe & Schwarzkopf has been recruiting world famous architects with a "why not here?" attitude. For the 46-year-old, two-generation company where father Tommy Schwarzkopf and son Joseph Schwarzkopf work side by side, it became increasingly obvious that sometimes you can't do it all. For about the last 40 years, the firm had taken a design-build approach, with Tommy (a trained architect) at the helm of designing modular residential and commercial towers across the capital. The buildings are efficient, but far from radical, on a growing skyline. When Joseph came into the family company, the two hypothesized that starchitects could bring more intrigue to their projects, and Tommy says he was satisfied to hand over the design reins and accept a new development challenge. 
Thus, their firm’s first foreigner-designed tower sprung up in González Suárez, an artsy, bohemian, and increasingly affluent neighborhood on a slope. The developers called on Miami-based Arquitectonica to design the 22-story residential Yoo Quito. French designer Philippe Starck crafted the interiors and amenities, which are dotted with his furniture and inspired by the clouds the tower seems to touch. Floating above the roof terrace is a cloudlike shape of undulating aluminum panels that hides the building’s necessary mechanical systems. On the ground level, too, the tower does something new for Quito: Retail at the base engages the public with the building in a city where most private residences have a barrier to entry.
I know exactly where Yoo Quito is - on Avenida Gonzalez Suarez, between Avenida Francisco de Orellana and Calle Muros - because it is directly across the street from the small apart-hotel on Calle Muros where my family and I lived in the late 1980s when we spent our summers in Ecuador. That part of town always had high-rises, both along Gonzalez Suarez as well as Avenida 12 de Octubre. Now, if local officials have their way, the rest of the city will start going vertical as well.
The government is, however, working to increase city center density through the city's first underground metro line, whose first phase will run from north of the former airport to the southern suburbs in 2020. Explains Jacobo Herdoiza, a former secretary of territory for Quito, the hope is that upper-class residents who currently drive from the suburbs to work downtown each morning will ditch their cars for mass transit and move back to the city center. For developers, an incentive has been set in place: If you construct a new residential project within an eight-minute walk from the new metro or a five-minute walk from a bus rapid transit station, the city will pick up the tab for your air rights.
The article claims that "Quito suffers from a pedestrian-unfriendly urban streetscape." I'm not sure I would completely agree - some parts of Quito, such as the colonial center or the Mariscal Sucre district, offer a good, active pedestrian environment - but the city is otherwise mostly automobile-oriented and I recall that many Quito sidewalks were narrow, uneven or poorly-maintained, with cars in driveways blocking them, a lack of curb cuts and other accessible infrastructure, and blank, uncomfortable security walls adjacent to them. Good pedestrian infrastructure is critical to the success of transit, and this is where transit-oriented development comes in to play.
These transit-oriented development incentives convinced Uribe & Schwarzkopf to hire one of the world's most buzzy architects, Bjarke Ingels of BIG, to design two residential towers (the firm's first projects in Latin America) along the forthcoming metro line. Across from La Carolina Park, the city's most popular green space, the 32-story IQON and the 24-story EPIQ towers by the architect are quickly rising. The former is set to be the city's tallest building and has a facade that, when trees are planted on each terrace, will reflect the adjacent park. The latter takes a more historic approach to its materials: It will be constructed of concrete dyed in various shades of pink to reflect Quito's terra-cotta heritage. Green roofs atop each setback become communal terraces for residents, while the ground level is activated with retail, offices, and a restaurant, a strategy that is hoped to encourage pedestrian traffic.
To be sure, these signature starchitect luxury high-rises are only part of the transformation process. Ecuador is still a low-income country and the percentage of the population that can afford to live in them is low. In order for the process to truly work and for Quito to reach its potential as a vibrant, walkable city, a lot of less-iconic but more-affordable housing options will need to be constructed as well. But by giving famous architects a "canvas" for their designs, perhaps an impetus can be created in Quito's development community for dense, mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly construction for all income levels. As the developer Tommy Schwarzkopf explains: “A new skyline for the city is being created and a new type of citizen is emerging.”

Did I mention that it's time for me to go back to Quito?

Houston 27, #18 Memphis 45

The Coogs looked good in this one for about a quarter. Then, as has been the case all too often this season, things went downhill.

The Good: The Cougars jumped out to a 17-7 lead thanks to Marquez Stevenson's 53-yard touchdown catch and and a Clayton Tune scoring scamper of 68 yards. Cougar special teams were also a bright spot, as they blocked a Memphis punt and recovered it for a touchdown late in the game. Punter Dane Roy averaged 48.7 yards per punt, including one which pinned the Tigers on their own two yard line.

The Bad: Everything else. After the Coogs took that 17-7 lead, Memphis outscored Houston 38-3. The Cougar offense was completely shut down - they accounted for only 49 yards in the entire second half - and Memphis quarterback Brady White picked apart the UH defense for 341 passing yards and five touchdowns (he ran for another). The Cougar secondary was absolutely abysmal, with players frequently out of position and unable to execute simple tackles. I hate to say this, but there are some players on the UH defense who do not appear to have the talent or athleticism to play at the FBS level. Previous coaching staffs simply did not recruit well, hence these results.

The Ugly: Regarding that Dane Roy punt that pinned Memphis on their own two yard line: it did not hamper the Tigers in the least. Memphis simply marched 98 yards down the field and scored a touchdown right before halftime. The Scott and Holman Pawdcast said it best
What was your favorite part of that Memphis drive? Houston calling a timeout early to save Memphis 20 seconds under the naive belief we'd get the ball back? The needless PI on a ball that wasn't gonna be caught? The missed chances by DBs to make a play on the ball?
This drive was the season in a microcosm.

What It Means: The Cougars have secured themselves their first losing season since 2012.

Next up for the Cougars is a trip to Oklahoma to play Tulsa.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Twenty years ago tonight

Apropos of Louisiana State defeating Alabama last weekend and becoming the #1 team the college football playoff rankings, it's interesting to note that, exactly twenty years ago tonight, something rather improbable happened: the Houston Cougars defeated the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
On this day in 1999, Kim Helton and the Houston Cougars beat LSU at Tiger Stadium, 20-7. The win assured UH of their second winning season in Helton’s 7 years. 
LSU drove 84 yards for a touchdown on their opening possesssion. Rondell Mealey finished it off with a 34-yard TD run. It was 7-0 Tigers and the sleepy, sparse crowd started to wake up. 
But that would be all of LSU’s excitement for the night: for the rest of the game, the Cougars kept the LSU rushing attack in check: after the first series, LSU ran for -12 yards total. UH dared LSU starting QB Josh Booty to throw it while keeping everything in front of them. 
Jason McKinley led the Cougar offense on three-straight scoring drives in the first half – perhaps the best sequence of the ’99 season (and maybe the entire Helton regime). In those three drives, McKinley went 9/11 for 117 yards and a score.
The Cougars would continue to stymie the Tiger defense after halftime - LSU would end up turning the ball over four times in the second half, including interceptions on their final three drives - to hold on for the victory.

While this sounds impressive - and to be sure, it is notable any time another team, especially from out of conference, beats the Tigers in "Death Valley" - this game really wasn't the shocker it at first appears to have been. For one thing, LSU was simply not good that year; they had lost seven games in a row coming into the Houston game and ended the season with a 3-8 record. The loss to Houston, in fact, was the final straw for embattled LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo.
In the locker room after the game, Gerry DiNardo was fired by LSU as the Tigers turned their sights to Nick Saban. Kim Helton would last 8 more days as the UH head coach before being dismissed by Chet Gladchuk.
Indeed, not even a win over LSU in Baton Rouge could save Kim Helton's job. Although the Coogs won seven games that season, none of those wins came against teams with a winning record and the schedule included a particularly demoralizing loss to 5-6 UAB (playing their first season as a member of Conference USA). The Cougars did not go to a bowl that season; Chet Gladchuk probably made up his mind to fire Helton well before the LSU game occurred.

They say that Saturday nights at Tiger Stadium are some of the most magical in college football. I'm not sure you could consider what happened on November 13, 1999 to be "magic," but it was definitely extraordinary.

(For another notable college football game whose 20th anniversary is approaching, take a moment to read this oral history of the November 1999 "bonfire game" between Texas and Texas A&M at Kyle Field. I was at that game - I was still technically enrolled at UT at the time - and it was indeed very emotional. I still remember it being so quiet in the stadium when the Aggie Marching Band silently walked off the field at the end of halftime that you could hear the clinking of the spurs on the seniors' boots from the upper deck. I still get the chills when I think about it.)

What a difference sixteen years makes

In November of 2003, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County held a referendum seeking bonding authority to implement its METRO Solutions transit plan. The plan, which envisioned a significant expansion of its (at that time still unopened) light rail system, was extremely controversial.

It garnered significant, well-funded opposition, and narrowly passed: 51.7% in favor to 48.3% opposed. The geographic disparity of the vote - urban, largely-minority precinct were generally in favor, while suburban, largely-white precincts were opposed - was stark.

The amount of bonding authority being requested was $640 million ($891 million in 2019 dollars).

In November of 2019, METRO held a referendum seeking bonding authority to implement its METRONext transit plan. The plan, which was focused on bus-based improvements but still contained a light rail expansion element, was relatively uncontroversial. It attracted only token, underfunded opposition, and was overwhelmingly supported by voters.

Factoring in the results from Harris County as well as the bits of the METRO service area that are in Fort Bend, Waller and Montgomery Counties, last week's METRONext referendum passed by a margin of 68.2% to 31.8% - a split of just over 2 to 1. Geographically, the plan was supported in precincts representing all ethnicities and income levels, and opposition to the referendum was limited to a handful of suburban and rural areas.

The amount of bonding authority being requested in last Tuesday's vote was $3.5 billion.

Certainly, some of the difference in the level of support between the two plans may have to do with the contents of the plans themselves. The 2003 plan was centered on light rail expansion, which is by nature expensive and controversial, whereas the plan approved last week is more focused on bus rapid transit (which works well when done right but which is currently unproven in the region) as a high-capacity transit technology.

That said, I think the greater reason in the difference in support between the two plans is simple demographics. Houston, Harris County and the surrounding region have grown and changed significantly over the last sixteen years, and local voters are more supportive of public transportation today than they were in 2003.

Traffic congestion is currently the number one concern of area residents, and highway widening projects that were once routine are now generating significant opposition. Local voters are looking for other ways to get around.

Jeff Balke has more.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Autonomous vehicles will only be as safe as their software

About a year and a half ago, an autonomous vehicle being tested in Arizona struck and killed a pedestrian. It was the first-ever fatality involving a self-driving car. Now, we may know why this incident occurred: the vehicle's software didn't know that humans could jaywalk:
The software inside the Uber self-driving SUV that killed an Arizona woman last year was not designed to detect pedestrians outside of a crosswalk, according to new documents released as part of a federal investigation into the incident. That’s the most damning revelation in a trove of new documents related to the crash, but other details indicate that, in a variety of ways, Uber’s self-driving tech failed to consider how humans actually operate.
As it turned out, the vehicle's software did detect the victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, with more than enough time to stop, but did not do so because it did not recognize that Herzberg was, in fact, a human. (The car did have a human back-up driver, Rafaela Vasquez, but she didn't see Herzberg until it was too late.)
It never guessed Herzberg was on foot for a simple, galling reason: Uber didn’t tell its car to look for pedestrians outside of crosswalks. “The system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians,” the NTSB’s Vehicle Automation Report reads. Every time it tried a new guess, it restarted the process of predicting where the mysterious object—Herzberg—was headed. It wasn’t until 1.2 seconds before the impact that the system recognized that the SUV was going to hit Herzberg, that it couldn’t steer around her, and that it needed to slam on the brakes.
That triggered what Uber called “action suppression,” in which the system held off braking for one second while it verified “the nature of the detected hazard”—a second during which the safety operator, Uber’s most important and last line of defense, could have taken control of the car and hit the brakes herself. But Vasquez wasn’t looking at the road during that second. So with 0.2 seconds left before impact, the car sounded an audio alarm, and Vasquez took the steering wheel, disengaging the autonomous system. Nearly a full second after striking Herzberg, Vasquez hit the brakes.
Self-driving vehicles will only be as safe as the design of the systems, sensors and software upon which they operate. The software design flaw that occurred in this case - an inability to recognize a human outside of a marked crosswalk - is so obvious as to beggar belief, and makes me wonder how many less-obvious but nevertheless lethal programming errors might still be imbedded in Uber's self-driving software. This is one of many reasons why we still have a long way to go before self-driving cars become commonplace on streets and highways.

Uber settled a lawsuit with Herzberg's family shortly after her death, and has made changes to its safety program for automated vehicle testing.

There's also this tidbit:
Another factor in the crash was the Tempe road structure itself. Herzberg, wheeling a bicycle, crossed the street near a pathway that appeared purpose-built for walkers, but was 360 feet from the nearest crosswalk.
Yikes! Along with the safety of autonomous vehicles themselves, we cannot ignore the design of the environment in which they - and the pedestrians and bicyclists they are supposed to detect - travel. The safe deployment of self-driving cars could require significant and expensive modifications to streets, sidewalks, pathway and bikeways.

A lot of work remains to be done.

Houston 29, Central Florida 44

Another competitive game, but another loss.

The Good: The first half. The Cougars jumped out to a quick start, leading by as much as ten points on two different occasions in the first quarter thanks to two rushing touchdowns by RB Mulbah Car. The Coogs racked up 357 yards of total offense in the first half and led at the break.

The Bad: The second half. Central Florida rallied to score 21 unanswered points in the third quarter alone and shut down Houston's offense, allowing only one additional score late in the game. The Knights sacked QB Clayton Tune five times, including in the endzone late in in the game for a safety. The Houston offense was simply shut down in the second half; all of its possessions except one ended in a punt, turnover on downs, or a safety.

The Ugly: How bad was Houston's offense in the second half? Seven of the Coogs' eight second-half possessions ended in a punt, a turnover on downs, or the aforementioned safety.

In spite of the loss, the Cougars dominated the Knights in time of possession, 41:31 to 18:29. Further proof that TOP is the most meaningless statistic in football.

What It Means: In order for the Coogs to avoid their first losing season since 2013, they need to win their final three games. Considering that two of their final three opponents - Memphis and Navy - are ranked, that's looking highly unlikely.

The Cougars have a week off before entering the final quarter of the season.

Quito, Ecuador: the city and its subway

Curbed's Jeff Andrews writes a fascinating history about the capital of Ecuador, its historic urban form, the changes to that urban form caused by continued growth, and the fact that these changes have required the city to build a subway.
Looking down on the city of Quito from the teleférico that rides up the eastern slope of the Pichincha Volcano, buildings as high as 30 stories dot an urban landscape that includes the former citadels and centuries-old churches of what was once a Spanish colony. 
But someone looking at Quito from that same view 50 years ago would have seen a considerably smaller city full not of high rises but of single-family homes. 
The discovery of oil in Ecuador in the late 1960s triggered growth in the country’s capital that pushed the city not only out but up. Quito’s population has grown from 350,000 then to almost 3 million today. 
Now, Quito’s transformation from sleepy town to vibrant metropolis is entering perhaps its most important phase: The population explosion has created the need to overhaul the city’s transportation infrastructure. Having already moved its airport out of the city center, Quito will open a brand new subway line in 2020, just seven years after the first phase of construction began. The metro could usher Quito into a new era as a regional economic power.
Quito is highly geographically constrained, with Mount Pichincha to its west and the Tumbaco Valley to its east. While the city has seen some residential development spill over into the Valley in recent decades, these geographic constraints otherwise means that the city's urban core can really can only grow in two directions - north and south. As a result, Quito's core is over twenty miles in length, but only about two and a half miles in width at its narrowest points.

This, necessarily, means that north-south commutes are the norm, which in turn causes significant congestion:
Quito’s topography, shaped by the city’s position in a valley of the Andes, provides residents with breathtaking views of the two mountain peaks on either side of the city. But as the city’s population has ballooned, Quito’s topography also contributes to traffic problems weighing on the city. 
Take El Panecillo, a hill in the center of Quito, just south of the city’s historic Old Town. On top of it lay a 135-foot-tall aluminum statue of a winged version of the virgin Mary, known locally as the Virgin of Quito. The statue is visible throughout Quito and is a source of local pride.
The hill is also an impediment at the center of traffic flow between the north and the south, as is the Old City itself, which has narrow roads originally built in the 16th century. Numerous ravines snake down the mountains in the east and cut through Quito’s center before flowing down to the valleys in the west. The bridges and infrastructure over these ravines weren’t built for the number of cars that now use them, and the available public land for new roads is limited, narrow, and expensive. 
The result is, for some commuting Quiteños, a traffic nightmare.
“The economic booms and the consumer patterns in Quito are very car-oriented,” [former Secretary of Territory for the Municipality of Quito Jacobo] Herdoiza said. “One of the first priorities for a new labor force is to have their own car. So you have an increase in the number of vehicles that doesn’t match with improvements in road networks or in public transportation.”
I remember very clearly how chaotic Quito's transportation network when I spent my summers there in the late 1980s; the city, while already large, was much smaller then than it is today.

Beginning in the 1990s, municipal officials tried to combat congestion by improving public transportation options. The Trolebus, an electrically-powered Bus Rapid Transit line running in the median of major Quito thoroughfares such as Avenida Diez de Agosto, opened in 1995. Diesel-powered BRT lines, such as the Ecovia and Metrobus, opened thereafter. Given the fact that Ecuador is an impoverished country, this type of transit infrastructure was probably all that was fiscally feasible at the time. But as at-grade bus systems, the Trolebus and Ecovia were limited in terms of the parts of the city they could serve and the number of riders they could carry. These riders were, for the most part, laborers commuting from the working-class neighborhoods on the south side of town to the businesses and industries in the north.
These commuters have to deal with every topographical impediment the city center has. Only about a third of Quiteños own a car. The rest rely on existing public transportation—the bus system and the bus rapid transit (BRT) system, or trolley buses that run north-south along major avenues. Low-income people in the south who work in the north often have to take multiple modes of transportation, spending as much as 20 percent of their income on that transportation. The commute can be as long as two hours each way, with delays caused by bus drivers who, Correa says, often bypass stops with fewer passengers in favor of more crowded stops that bring in more fares. Laborers who spend four hours on a bus every day not only waste time they could be working or being with their families, but they’re also exhausted during work hours from the long commute.
Thus, the Quito Metro, which is completely underground and which will run for about 14 miles along a north-south route featuring 15 stations. The project began construction in 2013 and is expected to open in 2020. Building a full subway - especially one beneath and earthquake-prone city - is an ambitious project for a relatively low-income country. But it could be transformative to both Quito's mobility and its urban form.
The metro alone will not solve these problems, of course. Because it only runs north-south through the city center, it won’t do much to alleviate congestion along Quito’s second busiest commuting route—people in the valleys who drive to Quito’s business district in the middle of the city center. 
And the metro stops also are not close to each other—1.5 kilometers apart, on average—so the metro will need to integrate into the existing system to truly meet commuters’ needs. At worst, the bus system and BRT could end up competing with the metro instead of working in concert with it, jeopardizing the financial sustainability of the subway.
If local officials can't get a subway, a BRT network and local bus systems to work together to provide complementary and interconnected services - e.g. longer north-south trips on subway, shorter north-south trips on BRT, and east-west and feeder trips on local bus - rather than competing services, then they're doing it wrong (and they need to hire someone like me to help them figure it out).
But if it works, the metro could unlock Quito’s potential to be a regional economic power. New developments around the metro stops are already well underway, which could create pockets of urban density that allow for more walkability and less reliance on cars and buses, something that younger Quiteños desire.
Quito already sees itself as something of a hidden treasure in Latin America, with a budding nightlife and restaurant scenes, and tourist attractions to rival any city on the continent. With two new ways of getting around the city, and phase one of an ambitious new metro system that took only seven years to complete, Quito may not be “hidden” for much longer.
Just another reason why I need to go back.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Astros fall to Nationals in 2019 World Series

For the first time in the 115-year history of the World Series (and for that matter, any seven-game NHL Stanley Cup or NBA Finals series), the road team won every game. Unfortunately for the Astros, the last game happened to be in Houston.

I guess I shouldn't be too upset. This is only the third time the Astros have even been to the World Series in their 58-season history. And the Washington Nationals were certainly no slouch: they had the league's best overall record since late May and blazed through the postseason, upsetting the favored Dodgers and sweeping the Cardinals.

But still... The Astros won a league-best 107 games, had a 60-21 record at home, were being compared favorably to the 1927 Yankees, and were favored to win this year's Fall Classic. The 2019 World Series was theirs to lose. And lose it they did.

Manager CJ Hinch will forever be questioned for his decision to replace Zack Greinke with Will Harris in the seventh inning of Game Seven, a decision that changed the course of the game. But that decision aside, the reason the Astros couldn't clinch their second championship is easy to pinpoint: they simply could not manufacture runs.

In their three wins, the Astros stranded 24 runners on base and were 11 of 28 with runners in scoring poisition. In their four losses, they left 36 men on base and where an abysmal 4-19 RISP. They simply couldn't bring runners home. Jose Altuve, for all of his postseason heroics, had exactly one (!) RBI the entire World Series.

This isn't to completely excuse the pitching - the bullpen's meltdowns in Games Two and Seven were inexcusable, and when the time comes for Justin Verlander to be considered for the Hall of Fame, the fact that he is 0-6 in World Series games with a cumulative ERA of 5.68 will need to be taken into account. But if the Astros lineup, whose bats went through cold spells throughout the entire postseason, could get a few more of those aforementioned stranded runners home during the course of the series, the pitchers would have had more room for error.

All in all, the better team won. I'm just sorry it wasn't the Astros.

ESPN's Brad Doolittle describes the Astros as a team that fell just short of true greatness, while Sportsmap's Fred Faour notes that this loss should remind local fans why the 2017 championship was so special. Paper City's Chris Baldwin describes the scene in the locker room after "the most talented team in Houston Astros history" failed to win a championship.

Houstonia's Timothy Malcolm shares his thoughts, as does the Houston Press's Jeff Balke. The Chronicle ranks this game 4th on their list of most heartbreaking Houston sports defeats; I will have to decide where it falls on my list of top Houston sports chokejobs*.

*Given that gave the Astros a 81% of winning the World Series after Game 5, the 'Stros had two chances - both at home - to win one game, and had a 2-0 lead with eight outs remaining in Game 7: yes, I think this qualifies as a chokejob.