The Pallilog

Astros in great position after Game 4 win, but it is not over yet

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A slightly shorter entry this week as I type late late night in the Bronx. The desolate, despondent Bronx. The Astros aren't locks quite yet to be playing the Washington Nationals in the World Series starting Tuesday night, but there are a lot of fat ladies in New York warming up their vocal cords.

The Yankees won their first World Series in 1923. In every decade since until this one they have appeared in at least one Fall Classic. It certainly isn't their motivation but the Astros would be plenty happy to snap the Yanks' nine decade Series streak.

Going into Thursday night's American League Championship Series game four, George Springer was batting .121 this postseason, Carlos Correa .161. A three run homer later from each of them and it wasn't quite over, but a 6-1 lead that wound up an 8-3 win has the Astros one win from Taking Back the AL pennant. With the Yankees staring down the barrel at Justin Verlander in game five.

Thought I heard the gnashing of teeth all the way from Houston as Zack Greinke gave up a hit and walked three to put the Yankees up 1-0 in the bottom of the first. With two out and the bases loaded after back-to-back walks, Gary Sanchez could have opened things up for the Yanks, however, he'd been a bum this series and lived down to billing by pitifully flailing at an 0-2 Greinke pitch to end the inning. Greinke then cruised until the fifth. His start against the Rays was awful but he did his part in both starts against the Yankees. Those who fret a lot about Greinke are viewing him through the prism of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander dominance.

It's not a miracle for the Yankees to beat Verlander and push the series back to Houston. If Minute Maid Park has a game Saturday it's a bullpen game for both teams unless A.J. Hinch crazily opts to go with Gerrit Cole in game six on three days rest. Winning it in five or six tees up Cole to start game one vs. the Nationals.

The Nationals have the starting pitching to go head up with the Astros. In fact, if you judge chain strength by the weakest link it's advantage Washington. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg can shut down any lineup, lefty Patrick Corbin is a solid third starter, Anibal Sanchez a capable number four. The Nats' bullpen was laughably lousy most of the season, been better in the playoffs, but still looks ripe for Astros' picking. The Washington offense is good not great, though Lamar high school grad and Rice-ex Anthony Rendon is great. He basically is an older Alex Bregman. A free agent to be, Rendon could get a contract in range of Cole's.

Gerrit Cole is presently a pitching God in our midst. But while the emotions we pour into sports reflect how much we love them, successful businesses rarely run on emotion. Logic, levelheadedness, and eyes on both the short run and longer term are essential. It's easy for those not directly coming up with the dough to go all Teddy KGB in Rounders saying "Pay the man." If Cole ultimately wants to sign somewhere home in California that's that. If not, the price of poker for the Astros could be six years 225+ mil. At this point seven/275 might be out there.

Big game for Texans

The Texans are rightfully on the back burner right now, but a win Sunday and that burner will be Battle Red hot. Last week's win at Kansas City was one of the best road wins in franchise history. Granted the Texans' cup doesn't runneth over with nominees, but that was a quality win, period. Following up with a victory lane performance in Indianapolis would have the Texans at 5-2 and in great position to chase the first first round playoff bye in club history.

Buzzer Beaters


1. Interesting and brassy of A.J. Hinch to go to Ryan Pressly in the fifth inning of game four. Trying to build confidence in him in a non-late inning situation paid off in spades with two huge Pressly Ks when the score was 3-1 2. I am a proud native New Yorker. But the casual loud profanity allowed at Yankee Stadium is ridiculous. Houston is the petroleum capital of the U.S. yet New York has more crude output. 3. Things at which Houston can't beat New York: Bronze-hockey Silver-pizza Gold-subway system


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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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