The Pallilog

As Red Sox loom, Astros are rolling along at a historic pace

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There is no such thing as a pivotal mid-May baseball series. Even with a sweep at Fenway Park this weekend the Astros would get no vengeance for the Red Sox having dethroned them last October in the American League Championship Series. But they'd still enjoy it. The Astros have reeled off eight consecutive wins. The Red Sox have recovered from a dismal 6-13 start to win 17 of their last 24 games.

Reigning AL Most Valuable player Mookie Betts best reflects the World Series champs' staggering start and subsequent rebound. Betts hit a paltry .200 over the 6-13 start. Since then he's batting .360 with an OPS over 1.000. Overall, at least until (if?) the Yankees get healthy, only Boston in the AL has a lineup that can remotely challenge the Astros for depth of quality.

It's still too early in the season to make all that much of "on pace" stats, but more than one quarter of the schedule having been played is not a trivial slice. Both Alex Bregman and George Springer are on pace to hit more than 50 home runs. Springer in particular is off to an incredible season. For a leadoff hitter to lead the league in runs batted in is absurd. Springer leads the AL with 40. Only two leadoff hitters have ever reached 100 RBI for a season (Charlie Blackmon 104, Darren Erstad 100). Springer is on pace for 147. There is zero chance he maintains that pace, but breaking the leadoff man season RBI mark is clearly in play. Springer's contract is up after this season, but the Astros control his rights via salary arbitration for 2020. He's looking at a raise from 12 million dollars this season to 20 mil or so next, after which he can become a free agent (unless an extension is agreed upon in the meantime). However, Springer will turn 31 years old before hitting the open market so he can basically forget a six year deal like Bregman got, maybe the Astros would consider five, but they'll be wary. Jose Altuve's five year extension kicks in next year and takes him through the season in which he turns 34. It would be denial to not have at least a pinch of concern about that given Altuve's decline in production and now two different leg injuries.



Wrapping up the Rockets

An athlete or sports team can fail and fail miserably, without choking. The Rockets didn't choke in their latest demise at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. A better, more clutch (ouch), real championship team, beat them. Again. Still, the way the red curtain closed in game six was a crushing franchise failure. The Warriors played without their best all around player, Kevin Durant. Their most important player, Stephen Curry did not score in the first half. Draymond Green got in foul trouble.

Unlike in multiple prior elimination losses, James Harden wasn't awful and/or seemingly a broken player. He went down swinging. But it's also fact that in the last 10 minutes of their season Harden committed four turnovers, while the Warriors committed none. Until or unless he demonstrates otherwise, Harden's postseason shortcomings are a part of the evaluation when comparing him to all-time greats.

Chris Paul who was so mediocre over the first five games, showed out in game six. Offensively anyway. Wasn't enough. The three years 124 million dollars guaranteed remaining on Paul's deal make his one of the worst contracts in the NBA going forward.

Owner Tilman Fertitta sure talked tough after the loss. His intensity and boldness are fun. But let's face it, part of the Rockets falling short was their weak bench, construction of which was impacted by the Rockets going nickel-dimey over luxury tax concerns. The Rockets have basically no wherewithal to go big game hunting this offseason, but do have flexibility via salary cap exceptions to make moves to start next season with a legitimate NBA bench. That is if dodging the luxury tax is not an objective this time around. I presume it won't be. General Manager Daryl Morey needs to do a better job than he did last summer.

In trying to put some upbeat tone to things Mike D'Antoni referred to the Rockets core still being young. That is laughable. If the Rockets are in the second round of the playoffs next season Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker will be 35 years old. Eric Gordon will be 31, James Harden 30. The Rockets best hope isn't in them getting much better. It's in Durant leaving and the Warriors slipping, and younger, ascendant teams (Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz, Blazers) not going by them.

Buzzer beaters

1. Seven different starting pitchers have won a Cy Young Award after turning 36. Justin Verlander looks like a clear frontrunner to become the eighth. 2.Tyler White is overweight and been lousy so far this season. DH replacement in waiting Yordan Alvarez hit two more homers Thursday and is batting .410 and slugging .903 at AAA. 3. MLB's greatest fat hitters: Bronze-Prince Fielder Silver-later career Tony Gwynn Gold-Babe Ruth


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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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