CHARLIE PALLILO

Astros forced to 'settle' for solid year; will have to retool for next season

Dallas Keuchel has likely seen his time as an Astro come to an end. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros slogan for 2018 was “Never Settle.” A bit of a bummer typing that using past tense. Sometimes in life one is forced to settle. There is zero shame in losing to a team as tremendous as the Boston Red Sox have been all year. And it’s not as if the Astros “settled” via lesser effort or desire. They were beaten by a Sox squad that validated its record as the best team in the American League. So the Astros settle for one World Series championship. At least for now. The Astros had a heckuva team this year and should have a heckuva team for the next several years.

Even having the clearly best team (which the Astros did not) assures little in terms of winning it all in baseball. After the Cubs broke their 108 year championship drought in 2016 the “D” (as in dynasty) word was thrown around. Two years later they haven’t been back to the Series, this year they didn’t even survive the Wild Card game.

The Astros have some serious personnel questions to answer this offseason, but their core remains phenomenal. Having graduated so much talent to the majors, their farm system is no longer one of the three or four best in the game but there is still enough depth to deal. Pursuing Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto should be obligatory for General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Brian McCann is basically at the end of the line. Martin Maldonado isn’t good enough to be resigned and handed the primary job. He had an oddly bad series behind the plate against Boston. Max Stassi is not a prospect of consequence.

Do they try to resign one of Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton? Keuchel probably gets too much money elsewhere. His innings eating has value. Lance McCullers simply cannot be counted on for a healthy full season. And Keuchel had the better ERA this year. Collin McHugh may wind up back in the rotation. Josh James and Framber Valdez are potential factors.

Their top free agent resign priority should be Marwin Gonzalez. After an awful first half Marwin got it back together and his versatility is tremendous. But what will the free agent market offer him?

The Astros are in a manageable payroll situation for 2019. Starting in 2020 they have huge financial balls to juggle or drop. Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole can both be free agents after next season. In 2020 Jose Altuve’s salary jumps from nine and a half to 29 million dollars. George Springer will command a raise from 12 million dollars. Carlos Correa will enter his second year of salary arbitration, Alex Bregman his first.  The Astros aren’t jacking up ticket prices out of pure greed.

Dynasties are never guaranteed.

West’s World

With finality: the Astros were not screwed over on the fan interference call in the first inning of game four. Umpire Joe West will never win Mr. Congeniality, but he’s a good umpire who saw interference clearly occur and made a call. Whether actionable interference occurred was the question. No video or picture conclusively showed Mookie Betts's glove was fully over the wall when the interference occurred.

However, West being West he was full of crap in claiming to a pool reporter that “the replay official said I was right.” Um, no. The call was not confirmed as right, the call was upheld because of the lack of any conclusive evidence to overturn the call.

Defense optional

The Rockets Wednesday night caught a break with Astros-Red Sox dominating the spotlight. I’m pretty sure that getting blown off of their homecourt a la game seven against the Warriors was not the Run It Back the Rockets had in mind.

Overreacting to the first of 82 regular season games is ridiculous, but Carmelo Anthony’s debut was a dud. Three for 10 shooting and a prominent part played in a Rockets’ defense that was an utter joke. The fast-paced Pelicans are potent led by perhaps the best both ends player in the NBA in Anthony Davis, but it was brow raising to see the Rockets torched for 131 points. Brow raising, get it?

There’s a rumor afloat that LeBron James signed with the Lakers over the summer. If so the Rockets certainly have a high profile opportunity to bounce back from their opening night debacle, at Staples Center Saturday night in LeBron’s regular season Laker home debut.

Going South

The AFC South has reverted to stink bomb status which is very helpful for the Texans. As mediocre as they obviously are, should the Texans spring an upset in Jacksonville Sunday they become the definite favorite to win the division. I don’t expect upset springing, unless the Jaguars’ team ego grew so bloated after last season’s run the AFC Championship game that their season is going to continue its recent downward spiral.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It stunk hitting “cancel” on Boston flight reservations.  2. Neither the Longhorns nor Aggies play this weekend. Maybe they could get up a flag football game or something.   3. Best state flags: Bronze-Alaska Silver-California Gold-Texas

 

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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