The Pallilog

Astros enter spring training with very few questions to answer

Justin Verlander will get the Opening Day nod. Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you're not into basketball, or maybe just not into college basketball until March Madness gets here or the NBA until playoff time, man is this a sucky time of the sports year.

It will soon get better, with the Astros like all Major League teams having thrown open the doors to spring training. Less than six weeks away now to Opening Day, for the Astros that will be in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Barring a spring misfortune either way the Opening Day matchup will have American League Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander pitching opposite AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. In game two Gerrit Cole will certainly go for the Astros, you'd think the Rays counter with their 30 million dollar free agent addition, ex-Astro Charlie Morton.

The biggest roster issues for the Astros to decide in Florida, aren't very big. Who wins the job as fifth man in the starting rotation? Going in that's seemingly advantage Josh James with Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock as the alternatives. For now. Someone who is part of the Astros' rotation once the season gets here is a placeholder. Unless something goes wrong, super stud prospect Forrest Whitley arrives in the majors this year, though not until at least June. Barring a dire need, the Astros will keep Whitley in the minors long enough to push back his salary arbitration eligibility a year. The Astros also have a last spot or two in their bullpen to determine.

Among the non-pitchers, the single biggest story line should be Carlos Correa's back. Correa was simply a bad player while ailing the second half of last season. It would be a horrible thing if at 24 years old Correa has recurring back problems. If he does not one would presume he gets back on track toward superstardom. Jose Altuve should be fine coming off knee surgery, the same expected for Alex Bregman working back from elbow surgery.

As in life few things in baseball are guaranteed. But given good health and their seemingly weak AL West competition, as the Astros start spring training, they're close to a guarantee to end up in the postseason for the third year in a row.

Cougars keep rolling

It's 24-1 for the Houston Cougars after they ground down UConn in the second half Thursday night. Sunday they play at the joke that is Tulane (4-19, 0-11 in conference). When the new polls come out Monday UH will move up to at least number seven in the nation.The Coogs are clearly the biggest college hoops story in Texas this season, but props to Sam Houston State. The Bearkats enter the weekend as one of only four teams in Division One undefeated in conference play. The other three: Tennessee, Gonzaga, and…Wofford.

Texans miss out?

So when it comes to your sports teams, how flexible is your morality? The Texans could use an upgrade at running back. Lamar Miller had a decent 2018 season, though he faded down the stretch with four straight ineffective performances. Yes the Texans offensive line was terrible, but a better back than Miller would presumably have been more productive. If the Texans keep Lamar Miller for 2019 his salary is five and a half million dollars.

Until Monday, Kareem Hunt was available, for roughly 20 to 25 percent of Miller's salary. Then the Cleveland Browns signed him. As a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017 Hunt led the NFL in rushing. He was having another fantastic season in 2018, when a video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel last February. Turned out Hunt had lied to the Chiefs about the incident and they decided to release him. Hunt is currently on NFL suspension. He will come off though and the Browns will then add a sensational talent on the cheap. Hunt signed a one year deal reportedly for about one million dollars which actually will be a raise for him over what his original Kansas City contract would have paid.

So the Texans could have had Hunt for, say, a million and a half. They'd have added a running back more explosive than the Texans have ever had. And saved about four million dollars in the process by cutting Miller. Would you have signed Hunt? Or would no player guilty of such loser punk behavior ever have a place on your team?

There is no indication that the Texans showed interest. But don't go crazy proclaiming them paragons of integrity. In 2017 the Texans celebrated Brian Cushing's return from his second NFL suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They recently hired Cushing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Morality judgments come on a sliding scale.

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden's ongoing streak of 30+ point games is astounding. The extreme ball domination also often makes the Rockets a tedious watch. 2. The Rockets hit the All Star Break one game closer to the draft lottery than to third place in the West. That is stunning, though there is virtually no way they miss the playoffs. Right? 3. NBA Valentine's Day shout-outs: Bronze-Kevin and Bob Love Silver-Roses: Jalen, Derrick, and Malik Gold-Valentines: Denzell and Darnell.

Astros complete a sweep of the Rangers

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 5-3 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With both the weekend series and season series locked up, the Astros were going for a sweep of this three-game set on Sunday. Here is how the finale unfolded:

Final Score: Astros 5, Rangers 3.

Record: 64-37, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Rogelio Armenteros (1-0, 1.93 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance Lynn (12-6, 3.93 ERA).

1) Brantley starts things with a bang

Houston wasted no time getting on the board on Sunday. With Springer receiving the day off, everyone else shifted up a spot in the order.

This put Alex Bregman second in the lineup, and he worked a one-out walk, bringing up Michael Brantley in the top of the first. He turned around the first pitch he saw, hitting it into Houston's bullpen for the quick 2-0 lead.

After the Rangers cut the lead to one run in the third, the Astros put together a big fifth inning to extend their lead. It started with a two-out opposite-field solo home run by Jose Altuve to make it a two-run lead again at 3-1.

They continued to fight with two outs, getting a single and a walk to set up an RBI-single by Yordan Alvarez to extend the lead to 4-1.

Brantley struck again in the bottom of the eighth, launching his second homer of the day into the upper deck in right field. That added an insurance run, extending the lead to 5-2.

2) Armenteros goes five one-run innings 

Rogelio Armenteros did well in his first official start on Sunday. He had only one bad inning, giving up a walk and a couple of hits in the third to allow his only run of the day.

Other than that, he was able to get through five innings, but with his pitch count at 91 was not asked to go any further.

Armenteros’ final line: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0 HR.

3) Closing out the sweep

With Armenteros' day done after five innings, Josh James took over on the mound to start the sixth. He would get two outs in before allowing a solo home run to make it a 4-2 game and prompting the call for Collin McHugh.

McHugh would get the final out of the sixth as well as a scoreless seventh. Will Harris was next out of the bullpen, and he was able to work around a couple of hits for a scoreless inning.

Roberto Osuna came in to close things out in the ninth and did so, despite allowing a one-out solo home run, to complete the sweep.

Up Next: With this series over, the Astros will continue this homestand tomorrow with the first of three games against the A's. Monday's game is slated for a 7:10 PM start, and the pitching matchup is expected to be newly-acquired Homer Bailey (8-6, 4.69 ERA) for his new team, Oakland, going against the surging Gerrit Cole (10-5, 3.12 ERA) for Houston who has not recorded a loss since May 22nd.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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