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.

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Houston is falling down the rankings

Tigers pound Odorizzi, Astros with homers as Houston drops fourth in a row

The Astros have not looked great in their last four games. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After watching their hot start of 6-1 cool down to a 6-4 record with three straight losses, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night, looking to do a better job at home against a beatable Tigers team.

Recent games' woes would continue, though, with Houston's pitching getting blasted by the opposing offense and their own bats primarily quiet.

Final Score: Tigers 8, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-5, tied for second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Matthew Boyd (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-1)

Astros score first, then Tigers unload on Odorizzi

Houston looked to have something brewing in the bottom of the second, with three singles in the first four batters of the inning, the third an RBI-single by Myles Straw to put the Astros in front 1-0. However, Matthew Boyd would limit the damage, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

After two easy innings for Jake Odorizzi in his regular-season debut for his new team, he would allow a game-tying solo homer to Akil Baddoo, his fourth of the year, in the top of the third. Detroit struck again in the top of the fourth, getting a leadoff double to set up a two-run go-ahead home run to jump ahead 3-1.

They didn't stop there, getting another two-run bomb later in the same inning; a frame that would take Odorizzi 31 pitches to get only one out before Houston would bring in Bryan Abreu to get the last two outs. Odorizzi's final line in his debut: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 0 BB, 4 K, 80 P.


Detroit continues home run parade, Houston loses fourth in a row

Abreu would hope to do what Luis Garcia did the night before, eat up as many innings as possible after a poor outing from Houston's starter. The Tigers would get yet another two-run homer, though, in the top of the fifth, extending their lead to 7-1, with all seven runs coming over a three-inning span. For good measure, they'd knock one more out with two outs in the top of the ninth, making it 8-1.

As far as Houston at the plate, other than their string of hits to bring in a run earlier in the second, they were getting nothing done against Boyd, who would go six and two-thirds innings. Detroit's bullpen would finish things off, despite an all-too-late sac fly by the Astros in the bottom of the ninth, with Houston dropping their fourth-straight game and continuing to lose ground in the division.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game set with Detroit will be an hour earlier on Wednesday, getting underway at 6:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will try to maintain his perfect record and improve upon his two five-inning one-run starts for the Astros, going opposite of Michael Fulmer (0-0, 2.57 ERA) for the Tigers.

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