The Pallilog

Astros bullpen is only real area of concern

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If the Astros want the best record in Major League Baseball (of course they do), they can't afford to lose many games on days when both the Dodgers and Yankees lose. Thursday night the Dodgers and Yankees lost, and then the Astros lost at Oakland. So heading into the weekend the Astros trail both by two and a half games.

The Astros have a spectacularly constructed ballclub. But like every other big league team ever, they're not perfect. For all the overpowering capability of their offense, when trailing after eight innings this season, the Astros are 0 and 40. Now, all teams lose almost every game when behind after eight, not many lose EVERY game. Overall however, the most important component of that stat is that over their first 122 games played, the Astros have only trailed going to the ninth 40 times.

The bullpen is a real concern these days. No reason to be feeling around for panic buttons, but concern is clearly warranted. Closer Roberto Osuna is nothing special and over the last two plus months has been much less. In the past A.J. Hinch has said bullpen roles are flexible. He hasn't managed that way. Osuna has essentially been the automatic ninth inning save situation guy. He's not that good. Osuna started the season converting his 1st 13 save chances. Since then he's converted 13 more…and blown five others. That, is poor. Two seasons ago Osuna led the Major Leagues in blown saves with 10.

If Ryan Pressly gets fully back on track off of his leg injury he is the Astros best reliever, and in October should be the reliever asked to get the toughest outs late in games. But since starting his season near flawlessly into June, Pressly too has been shakier than desirable.

Among the "others" only Will Harris is having a good season. It's a regular season problem in the race with the Yankees and Dodgers. It's an issue that can be diminished in the postseason. As two years ago when Ken Giles and, really, Chris Devenski became unusable, Hinch may well use Astros' starting pitchers for relief in some key spots.

After this weekend's series at Oakland, the Astros schedule is soft overall the rest of the way. But they can't just throw their bats and gloves on the field and win. See this week's results.

The Yankees meanwhile have been pretty amazing. Their injury load this season has been clearly worse than what the Astros have endured, and that's saying a lot, considering three of the best dozen or so players in the American League (George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve) have all missed chunks of time this season. Yet the Yankees have opened up 2 ½ games of daylight over the Astros. But, the Yanks are now in a 10 game stretch of four vs. the Indians, three at the A's, then three at the Dodgers. The stretch started with the Indians obliterating the Yankees with 19 runs Thursday. It's doubtful the Yankees grow their lead over this stretch, but if they do the Astros will probably have to settle for being the second best team in the American League. Until the playoffs anyway.

With the Detroit Lions in town to practice for two days with and then play the Texans Saturday, it comes to mind that Barry Sanders retired 20 years ago this summer. No running back had a greater and more electrifying NFL career. Jim Brown was greater, but I don't think as electrifying. Walter Payton was greater, but I don't think as electrifying. Bo Jackson was maybe even more electrifying, but his NFL career was a hiccup.

Sanders played 10 NFL seasons. He retired at 31 years old one good season short of topping Payton for the career NFL rushing record that Emmitt Smith would go on to shatter. Over Sanders's decade with Detroit the Lions made the playoffs five times but won exactly one playoff game (destroying the Cowboys 38-6 the season before the Cowboys won the first of their three Lombardi Trophies of the Aikman/Smith/Irvin era). That is the Lions' Super Bowl era Golden Age. They won the 1957 NFL Championship. And have just that one playoff win since. One playoff win in 61 years! And some Texans fans think they have it tough.

I discussed on the show Thursday that if going with a four wide receiver set and the sole criterion is best hands, my all-time foursome is Cris Carter, Larry Fitzgerald, Fred Biletnikoff, and I think DeAndre Hopkins. Highest honorable mention to Steve Largent, and anecdotally, Raymond Berry. Jerry Rice is head and shoulders the greatest wide receiver ever, but for pure pass catching ability he is not supplanting the aforementioned. Biletnikoff was clearly aided by the gobs of now illegal stickum that he used. On the other hand, today's pass catchers benefit from much tackier and more helpful gloves.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Despite four losses in their last five games the Astros are still on pace to win 103. 2. That guy who bangs a drum all game in Oakland should be locked in an elevator for a week with the guy who does it in Cleveland. And two insurance salesmen. 3. Best things about preseason football: Bronze-vacant Silver-surprise guys who earn jobs Gold-the end of it


"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

- William Shakespeare

You might wonder why there is a puppy picture on a story about the Astros scandal. This little beauty is my Dalmatian, Dynamo. Why is she here? To distract you. To dazzle you. Who doesn't love a puppy picture? Who cares if it has anything to do with the story? She made you look.

And the point is...

Sadly, that is the role of the media these days. Please listen to my rant. Please click on my story. Who cares if the headline isn't accurate? None of that matters. Look at me! I need likes and retweets!

The Astros cheating scandal is the latest story to be overblown, overanalyzed and overexposed. Why? Page views. Ratings. A failing media.

Exploring every angle

None of that is meant to excuse the team. Let's be honest; the Astros cheated. They will be punished, and they should. Draft picks, fines, suspensions. All are possible, and whatever they get is probably warranted.

And that is where the story should end. But that is not what the world is about anymore. It has to be endlessly debated. Pictures of a laptop on a table become the Zapruder film. There HAS to be a conspiracy. Every detail has to be debated. Which side you come down on depends on your biases.

Stupid takes

Some have even said the Astros should be stripped of their World Series title. This isn't college. It's a dumb, look at me take. It will never happen. This is not Avengers: Endgame where you can enter the quantum realm and change the past. It is real life, where events can't be changed. Did the cheating help them win? Who knows? You still have to hit the ball, even if you know what is coming. And it did not make a difference for the Astros pitchers. And harkening back to the steroid era, how do you know the other teams did not do it too and just did not get caught?

The big argument about PEDs was "oh, look at the big numbers the hitters put up." But how do you know the pitchers weren't doing it, too? The same goes here.

Truth is, you don't know. Which is why results can't and shouldn't be changed. Period. To suggest it is just dumb.

More stupid takes

On the Astros fan side, the defenses are just as silly. "They did nothing wrong. Where is your proof? Why aren't there other players coming forward?"

As an aside, let's not leave out the great misleading phrases. "Due diligence." (In other words, we know this is a bad idea, but we want to sound like we know what we are doing). "Witch hunt." (Yes, I am guilty, but this is how I deflect it).

As another aside, if you find an actual witch on your hunt, let me know. I always wanted to meet one.

They cheated. Period. And they will be punished. But the point is not that at all. It's to find every possible angle to get people to read and react. To care more about something than we should, when there are far more important things we should be riled up about. But you are being told to care, so you will keep clicking. It's the new normal, where reporters make themselves the stories and insert themselves into it. And that's why they turn stories like this into major issues. For their own benefit.

Nothing new

This is just the latest media distraction. The Patriots deflated balls saga was the most overplayed, overanalyzed scandal in sports history. Why was it so important? Because hot takes, web sites and analysts told us so. Many hinted at even bigger conspiracies. Why? Because we are a society dazzled by puppies.

Just this past weekend, the entire Colin Kaepernick story was over reported from all sides. The NFL was just doing a PR move. He just wants to be a martyr.

The NFL's waiver was broken down word by word.

Over a guy who hasn't played in three years.

The reason? He gets page views and clicks. And ratings. We keep getting told how important every aspect of the story is to our lives. In truth, it's just another distraction, a false narrative created to keep us dazzled and up in arms. Do we really care about these things? And if we do, what the hell is wrong with us?

Just like the Astros scandal. Is it a bad look? Of course. Are they guilty? Sure looks like it. But punish them and let's move on. We get it. They banged trashed cans. But punishment is never enough. People have to post pictures that might be something. Videos that might be something. Emails that might be something. Add it all up and it doesn't make things any worse. It just creates talking points. And people wonder why so many people consider the media - and social media, as the lines are completely blurred - "fake news."

In the end...

It's not fake news. It's misguided attempts to to keep us coming back for more. And too many of us fall into the trap. We are too distracted by everyone telling us these things are so important that we keep clicking. It takes on a life of its own, and then any theory is possible. Any conspiracy is possible. So we keep reading and digging and we are immersed in it. Look at this! Click on me! In a few weeks the Astros will be the most evil organization that ever lived and should be disbanded. And some of you will believe it and buy in, because that's how distractions work. And once we are distracted? We can believe anything.

Hence the picture of Dynamo. To distract you. By the way, did you notice one of her spots looks like Mickey Mouse? Let the Disney conspiracy begin. We shall start our own tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

And we all know what that signifies.

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