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 take game one of three against Rangers

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: Astros 7, Rangers 2

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After having their winning streak snapped on Wednesday night, the Astros had a day off to regroup before starting the weekend series with the Rangers in Arlington. Here's how Friday night's game went:

Final Score: Astros 7, Rangers 2

Record: 13-6, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Justin Verlander (3-0).

Losing pitcher: Drew Smyly (0-2).

Star of the game: Though there was plenty of offense to go around for the Astros, Justin Verlander delivered a great performance on the mound, allowing just one run on three hits and three walks to go along with his eight strikeouts over his seven innings and 107 pitches. The win moved him to 3-0 on the year.

Notes: After being held to one run on Wednesday night in Oakland, the Astros were on fire to start the game on Friday, getting a leadoff double from George Springer to set up Jose Altuve for a two-run homer, followed by Alex Bregman who made it back-to-back jacks to put Houston ahead 3-0 before Drew Smyly could record an out. Altuve struck again in the next inning, getting a two-out RBI-single to extend the lead to 4-0. That score held until the top of the fifth when Michael Brantley led the inning off with a double before Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit back-to-back RBI-doubles, then later George Springer hit what looked to be a home run but was instead ruled the third RBI-double of the inning, extending Houston's lead to 7-0. After being held scoreless through the first five innings, the Rangers did finally get on the board in the bottom of the sixth on a solo home run off of Justin Verlander, but Verlander would still go on to post a great line with his seven innings pitched. Chris Devenski took over in the eighth, getting a quick scoreless inning before Reymin Guduan came in for the ninth. Guduan allowed a towering one-out solo home run to the Rangers then walked the next batter, ending his appearance to bring in Josh James who was able to notch the last two outs to wrap up the win.

Up Next: The second of three games in this series will get underway at 7:05 PM on Saturday night. Houston will send Gerrit Cole (1-2, 3.24 ERA) to the mound to face Adrian Sampson (0-1, 5.93 ERA) for the Rangers.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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