THE PALLILOG

Here's why now is the time for Astros to get creative with their No. 1 starter

Lance McCullers is the clear choice to go in game one. Composite image by Jack Brame.

So, so, lame of the Texans' franchise that the roof was closed at NRG Stadium Thursday night. 75 degrees, low humidity, not a cloud in the sky. Lamer than their offense in a 24-9 loss to Carolina that went largely as expected. I suppose we could imagine how ugly it would have been had the roof been open and the noise generated by 15 to 20 thousand empty seats not been deafening.

The Texans look like a decent expansion team, which is sad considering this is season number 20. The 2002 expansion Texans had an awful offense. That squad averaged 213 yards per game. Against the Panthers the Texans mustered 193 yards. Despite the puny output, quarterback Davis Mills certainly shouldn't be condemned as a bust. He should be in over his head right now. Mills never played a full season of games at Stanford. He's supposed to excel early as a rookie in a season where he was only projected to play once Operation Tank was further along?

Two games in a row, weak game management decision from David Culley. Down 7-6 in the third quarter, fourth and four at the Carolina 39-yard line, Culley opts to take a delay of game penalty and then punt. Even with a weak offense, going for the fourth and four in opponent territory was the call to make.

Give Culley some credit for having the Texans playing hard through three games. Though truly that's nice for a pee wee team where the players can be rewarded with pizza and ice cream. Meanwhile Deshaun Watson keeps collecting about $600,000 per week, and the Texans keep listing him as out for "non-injury reason."

Next week at Buffalo the Texans would seem to have chances of the slim and none variety.

Astros in driver's seat

The Astros can clinch their fourth American League West title in five years as soon as Saturday night. They have essentially secured homefield advantage for their American League Division Series. All that's left is can they catch the Rays for homefield advantage should there be an Astros-Rays American League Championship Series rematch. While the Astros likely formally put the A's to sleep this weekend, the Rays play three versus the Marlins. Then it's the Rays at Minute Maid Park for three. The Astros are three games behind Tampa Bay with nine to play. It's extremely unlikely the Astros catch the Rays without beating them at least two out of three at MMP. Winning two out of three would give the Astros the season series tiebreaker over them.

It's approaching decision time for the Astros' postseason starting rotation. Lance McCullers is the clear choice to go in game one. Of some concern is how to slot McCullers next week to give him the best chance at being in peak form for that series opener. Having pitched Thursday night, McCullers starts one of the Rays series games, either Tuesday or Wednesday. The Astros have an off day Monday. McCullers on normal four days rest would mean he goes Tuesday, but then would either go nine days without game action before the postseason opener, or maybe get a brief outing on three days rest a week from Saturday to get back to normal four days rest before the ALDS start. A third seemingly less prudent option would be starting the season finale for a shortened outing on four days rest, but then he'd only have three days rest before ALDS G1. Given McCullers's injury history and career high innings workload this season, it's not a trivial thought process.

Luis Garcia has a 2.19 earned run average at home this season, 4.24 everywhere else. Garcia at home in game two makes sense, with Framber Valdez and either Jose Urquidy or Zack Greinke for a prospective game four, back around to McCullers should there be a decisive fifth game. If he is to get the ball Greinke really needs to show something in his remaining couple starts. Between time in the COVID and safety protocols and some lousy pitching, Greinke hasn't made a good start in more than a month.

College

Texas A&M-Arkansas is very interesting Saturday at Jerry Jones's place in Arlington. The Aggies have beaten the Razorbacks the last nine years and are favored by five and a half points to make it 10, but the Hogs may be poised to halt that streak shy of double digits. The A&M offense looks shaky. The quarterback edge going in clearly belongs to Arkansas with dual threat K.J. Jefferson. A couple of weeks ago the Razorbacks humiliated the Texas Longhorns. The last season in which Arkansas beat both Texas and Texas A&M? 1988.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Funny that channel 13 is the "Official Television Station of the Houston Texans!" yet the one regular game which it had access to telecast it got outbid by channel 2.

2. You know the Rockets' preseason opener is a week from Tuesday? There's very little chance they're good this season, but it could be a fun squad showing much promise for coming years.

3. Biggest babies to come out of LSU: Bronze-Herman Johnson (15 pounds 14 ounces at birth!) Silver-Glen Davis Gold-Ben Simmons

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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