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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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