THE PALLILOG

Here's why we could be watching a historically great Astros offense

The Astros are crushing the baseball. Photo by Getty Images.

Mashing the A's the last two days has the Astros back in first place and rolling into their weekend series at the American League West cellar dwelling Texas Rangers. Last weekend the Astros swept the Rangers four straight at Minute Maid Park. Put most simply, the Astros are good the Rangers are bad.

The top five hitters in Dusty Baker's batting order are all hitting over .300: Jose Altuve .314, Michael Brantley .307, Alex Bregman .324, Yordan Alvarez .338, Yuli Gurriel .333. It's even more impressive in this thus far depressed hitting season. The batting average for all Major League Baseball is .236. If it stays there (unlikely) it will be the lowest season batting average in the history of the sport.

The "Murderers' Row" 1927 Yankees lineup stood taller over its competition than any other ever. Among players with the required plate appearances to be eligible for the batting title the '27 Yanks had five .300 hitters. The 1976 Cincinnati Reds offense dominated its league like few others. The "Big Red Machine" had five .300 hitters. The 1999 Indians are the only team in the last 70 years to score more than 1000 runs for the season. They had four .300 hitters. The '95 Indians had six. The 2017 Astros' offense that was way better than any other in the AL (in contrast with the '19 team which was basically even with the Twins and Yankees) had four .300 hitters.

Another no-no?

The Rangers were no-hit this week. Again. It's the second time in their first season with fans allowed to watch the Rangers in their new billionaire playpen that is Globe Life Field. No team in big league history has been no-hit three times in a season. Among the absurd six no-hitters already thrown in 2021 the Rangers, Mariners, and Indians have each been victimized twice. The modern era (since 1900) record for no-hitters in a season is seven.

Corey Kluber owning the Rangers Wednesday had to sting a bit extra for the Arlingtonians. Last season the Rangers paid Kluber about seven million dollars (a short season trim from what otherwise would have been an 18 million dollar guarantee) to pitch one inning and be done for the season with an arm injury. The Yankees took an 11 million dollar flier on Kluber for 2021, so of course in his first game against the Rangers he no-hits them. On a night the Rangers gave out Corey Kluber bobbleheads! They were clearing inventory of some stuff they never had the chance to give away last year. The Astros are doing the same thing.

Exciting homestand on the horizon

What a fun homestand upcoming for the Astros. First the reigning World Series Champions are here for two. The Dodgers starting pitchers should be Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer. Then the Padres are in for three, led by spectacular shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Then the Red Sox are in for four. Good timing for the Astros to be opening up Minute Maid Park to full seating capacity. However…

It is lame if the Astros will continue to require ticket purchases to be all digital, in the process forcing fans to pay the obscene tack on fees. I'm all for safety, but if it's okay to pack the ballpark it certainly is okay to sell tickets through a glass partitioned window.

NHL and NBA playoffs

The National Hockey League playoffs have started sensationally. Of course they have. The NHL postseason is the most relentlessly intense in all pro sports. We'll see starting Saturday how the NBA playoffs go. No Rockets involved for the first time in nine years, but the Western Conference matchups are fantastic. If you're a Rocket fan there's a good chance you despise the Lakers. If so you have additional incentive to root against the defending champs. The '95 Rockets won their back-to-back championship as a sixth seed. No one has matched that much less surpassed it. The Lakers are the seventh seed. Via the betting odds the Lakers are favored to win the West. James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets are favored to take the title. The Rockets meanwhile rue their own plight, and perhaps start gathering good luck charms for the draft lottery which is one month from Saturday.

Denver's Nikola Jokic clearly should win the NBA Most Valuable player award. Any opinion that Jokic is unworthy is stupid. But a vote for Stephen Curry is certainly justifiable.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. More exciting quarterback signing for the Texans: Ryan Finley or Jeff Driskel? I'm calling it a tie.

2. Other than that he's really rich I know next to nothing about the guy paying some 400 million dollars to become the lead owner of the Houston Dynamo and Dash. Ted Segal can't help but be better than the outgoing cheapo regime.

3. Greatest sports Teds: Bronze-Lindsay Silver-Hendricks Gold-Williams

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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