6 intriguing Astros observations with a quarter of the season almost in the books

What a start for Yordan Alvarez. Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

Silver Boot Fever! No, but the Astros and Texas Rangers this weekend at Minute Maid Park and next weekend up in Arlington should have the Astros distancing the .500 mark in their rearview mirror for this season. Seven games with the Rangers are wrapped around a three game set at Oakland next week. The Astros taking the first of them Thursday night assures they'll be over .500 as they finish the first quarter of the season.

Some quick almost quarter pole facts and thoughts:

1) The starting rotation lacks an ace, but the depth of at least pretty good pitchers enables them to withstand the continued absences of Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi. The bullpen is shaky but Brent Strom gets the benefit of the doubt toward coalescing pieces into all right.

2) Yuli Gurriel has been tremendous thus far. He turns 37 next month so we'll see how he holds up through the summer, but after an abysmal 2020 showing Gurriel is well positioned to bat .300 this season (he's at .333). Before his inept .232 last year, Gurriel hit .299, .291, and .298 in his first three full seasons.

3) Among Astros only Yordan Alvarez has been as good as Gurriel in the batter's box thus far. Yet while hitting .350 Yordan has not been better than he was as a rookie. That's because the Cuban missile launcher has only drawn four walks so far this season.

4) Carlos Correa's drive for a monster free agent contract has not gone well to this point. A .246 average and .299 on base percentage are simply not good numbers. Forget his injury history, from 2018 to now Correa is a .257 hitter. Not the stuff of which 10 year 300+ million dollar contracts are made.

5) Myles Straw was obviously going to be a huge dropoff offensively from George Springer but he has been a serious disappointment to this point. They have no viable alternatives.

6) Jason Castro should be getting more starts behind the plate as Martin Maldonado continues to flail away mostly hopelessly at the plate. Astros' catchers bat ninth for a reason and aren't expected to be big offensive producers but Maldonado has been almost unbelievably bad. Castro will never be confused with Mike Piazza or Joe Mauer but should be getting at least half the playing time right now. Castro is plenty competent behind the plate. Maldonado's handling of pitchers and pitch framing skills aren't so good as to justify his getting two thirds of the playing time if his OPS is .507. His OPS is .407.

It's good for franchise imaging and future recruiting efforts which is just fine given that Jim Crane and the organization decided to provide furnished apartments for all their minor leaguers this season. No other franchise has done that. Most players in single-A make five hundred dollars per week. That's about eleven thousand dollars for the entire season.

Rockets wrapping up the season

The Rockets' season mercifully draws to an end Sunday. Yes, the Rockets have been playing games the last several months. Losing almost all of them. Consider that after losing a franchise record 20 consecutive games the Rockets have gone 5-24. Owner Tilman Fertitta this week spoke enthusiastically about the club's future. Did you expect him to say they could stink for several more years? Stinking for at least the next two seasons is quite likely, especially if the Rockets lose their first round pick by having it drop to the number five pick on draft lottery night June 22. That would give them three straight losing seasons, after having just three in the prior 36.

The two years roughly 92 million dollars left on John Wall's contract are a pair of cement sneakers the organization is wearing. A buyout that could save Fertitta several million and let Wall try to latch on as a backup with a contender makes sense for both sides.

Texans schedule

The NFL full 2021 schedule release Wednesday marked four months to go until the Texans' season opener. Stifle the yawn or laugh. Barring quite a turn of events that wind up with Deshaun Watson starting at quarterback for them September 12, the Texans' 20th NFL season will be by far the least anticipated in franchise history.

Buzzer Beaters:

1) So, if the Texans lose their season opener at home vs. Jacksonville do you immediately start thinking 0-17 is possible? It would be pretty funny if they go 1-16 with the lone victory coming at Arizona. DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt would see that differently.

2) The horse did nothing wrong, but Medina Spirit should not be trying to get two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown by winning Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Trainer Bob Baffert is shady.

3) Best Jennifer Lopez OR Ben Affleck movies: Bronze-Out of Sight Silver-The Town Gold-Good Will Hunting (really a Matt Damon or Robin Williams movie but work with me).

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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