THE PALLILOG

Astros get back on track with a much-needed win

Carlos Correa in the leadoff spot paid off. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

The Astros finished the first inning of the regular season Thursday night. 18 games out of 162, one-ninth of the schedule. Viewing the season in single game form, they're behind 2-nothing going to the second. A deficit nowhere near insurmountable, but not inconsequential either. An 8-10 record is not a big deal. Still, for late April this is an important American League West homestand with four against the Angels followed with four against the thus far spunky Mariners. It's not remotely make or break. A winning homestand and the Astros are just fine. A 2-6 or 3-5 mess? Wouldn't be catastrophic though even this early in the season, falling five, six, seven games behind three teams within the division would be a bona fide concern.

The Astros enjoyed a much-needed breakout game Thursday night in routing the Angels 8-2. They sure didn't want their stretch of brutally bad baseball to drag into the weekend. It's been a team wide affliction. In losing nine out of 10 games the offense had been generally comatose, just once scoring more than four runs. Ironically it was in the lone win that the Astros plated the smallest number, a 1-0 victory at Seattle. Astro pitching had been straight lousy, just once during the ten game stretch allowing fewer than six runs.

Dusty Baker makes the occasional dubious tactical decision, but props to him for slotting Carlos Correa in the leadoff spot Thursday with Jose Altuve still out. First time in his big league career Correa led off. It's simple. You want your best batters up the most. It doesn't matter how fast Myles Straw is. Until/unless he demonstrates something resembling competence as a batter no way should Straw ever be higher than eighth in the lineup.

Mike Trout's greatness

The Angels in through the weekend means the beyond great Mike Trout is here. Among the greatest center fielders of all-time Willie Mays was no greater than Mike Trout. Mickey Mantle was no greater than Mike Trout. At their individual peaks Mantle has the edge for greatest offensive player. Willie was 34 at the end of his last absolutely awesome season, Mickey was 32 at the end of his last. Willie had a great season in his last as an everyday player when he was 40! Trout turns 30 in August. It will be fascinating to see how long Trout sustains baseball God level of play. He's under contract for eight more seasons after this one at more than 37 million dollars per. Alas in baseball, even the greatest everyday player can only do so much toward team success. Trout has been to the postseason once in his career (2014). The Royals swept out the Angels in three straight. Trout went one for 12.

By the way, Ty Cobb was more statistically dominant than any of them but most of his career occurred during the dead ball era. Comparisons can be made but they're a little more apple vs. orange-y.

Rocket science

The Rockets are closing in on nailing down a finish of the worst three records in the NBA and hence maximizing their chances of keeping their lottery pick at 52.1 percent. The Rockets have to finish worse than Orlando or Detroit. Even if the Magic or Pistons lose all remaining games (except the game someone has to win when the Magic and Pistons play), the Rockets would have to win four more to rise above the bottom three. Yeah right! The Rockets' remaining schedule: Clippers, at Denver, Timberwolves, Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, 76ers, at Milwaukee, at Utah, at Portland, at the Lakers, Clippers, at Atlanta.

Sterling Brown is fortunate to not be in worse shape as he recovers from getting attacked outside a Miami strip club early Monday morning. What could have been a life or death matter takes on the most importance, but the Rockets should be concerned, distressed, and ticked that Kevin Porter Jr. was among those out with Brown in the wee hours. On the Rockets' lousy roster, Porter is one of the few beacons of hope. During his freshman season at USC Porter was suspended for misconduct. His behavior with the Cleveland Cavaliers led to the Cavs basically giving away a first round pick in his second season to the Rockets. Porter is now basically suspended because he breached NBA/COVID protocols. It was an irresponsible and lousy job of "mentorship" by Brown and whatever other Rockets were on hand ahead of a game upcoming in Miami that night. Brown was on the trip while not even available to play because of a sore knee.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Interesting timing by the Astros extending Martin Maldonado's contract through next season and giving him a 1.5 million dollar raise for it. Maldonado is batting .081. He's not here for his bat, but come on.

2. If the 49ers really traded their 2022 and 2023 first round picks plus a third rounder next year to swap up from pick 12 overall to third overall to take quarterback Mac Jones out of Alabama, they're nuts. Doesn't mean it can't work.

3. The next three (okay four) best center fielders ever: Bronze-Oscar Charleston/Ken Griffey Jr. Silver-Tris Speaker Gold-Joe DiMaggio

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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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