The Pallilog

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

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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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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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