KEEP THE FAITH

All the reasons you should still feel great about the Astros' chances

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I can read a box score. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, heck, even utility man Myles Straw, are all hitting well below their career batting averages. Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, hasn't made an appearance yet. Justin Verlander, last year's Cy Young winner, and Roberto Osuna, the American League's saves leader, are on the injured list, perhaps for the season. One starter, Lance McCullers, has an ERA over 9, while another starter, Josh James, already has been banished to the bullpen. The bullpen, with Osuna gone, is a giant, inexperienced question mark. And don't forget, last year's best pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole, left the Astros to sign with the Yankees.

Take Thursday night (please). Ryan Pressly was brought into the game in the ninth to protect a 1-run Astros lead. He closed it, all right. Pressley gave up a walk, single, single and double - game over, Astros lose. Pressley began the night with a 13.50 ERA, and left with a 40.50 ERA. I didn't know ERA could go that high.

Let's review: so far in 2020, more than half of the Astros top hitters are in a slump. The team lost, not its two best pitchers, but both of baseball's two best pitchers. Their starting rotation has been decimated. Their top reliever may be done. Their slugging DH has yet to swing the bat. New manager, new general manager. As the Beatles once sang, it can't get no worse. I'm not happy with the grammar.

Break it to me gently. Surely they're in last place, but how many games out of first? Don't tell me they've already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Wait, are you saying the Astros are 6-6 for the season, only a couple of games behind Oakland for first place in the American League West? And they have three games coming up against the A's, and if the Astros sweep, they'll be in first?

The first 20 percent of the season is gone in a blink. Things couldn't have gone more horrendously for the Astros, and they're still playing .500 ball. If the playoffs started today, the Astros, even with their cursed season, would be in the mix. Surely, Altuve, Bregman and Springer's bats will come alive. The Astros will find more pitching arms. The bullpen, riddled with injuries and rookies, will gain experience and confidence..

And that's why I'm sticking with my prediction that the Astros will win the American League West (for the fourth time in a row), repeat as American League champions, and beat the Dodgers for the World Series title. I don't know which would please me more, the Astros winning, or the Dodgers losing. Take that, pouty face Joe Kelly.

You know that Springer will start bashing home runs, assuming his wrist is okay. Bregman will be Bregman. Reddick will be fine. Michael Brantley will bat .300. If Carlos Correa stays hot and off the massage table, the Astros will be, maybe not a murderer's row, but a reduced charge of manslaughter. Despite the slumps, injuries and absences, the Astros lineup is leading the league in runs scored. When Alvarez returns, look out.

Remember, with this improbable, 60-game schedule, the Astros don't have to finish first, although they will, or even second in the AL West. This season is just about making the playoffs. Sixteen teams, more than half of all the teams, will qualify for the post-season tournament. That's crazy hockey talk.

If you're a good team, which the Astros certainly are, the real goal of the 2020 season is to get to October with your position players healthy and your pitching rotation rested for Game 1 of whatever MLB is calling the first round of playoffs.

Now all we need is general manager James Click to find us some starting pitchers and a reliever or two. And Alvarez to show up. And Altuve and Bregman and Springer to start raking. And just maybe, "do you believe in miracles" Verlander to come back. The Astros aren't giving up, and neither should we.

My biggest worry about the Astros 2020 season? How do you hold a World Series parade in downtown Houston with social distancing?

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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