Charlie Pallilo

Astros-Indians series will have plenty of intrigue

Will Carlos Correa wake up? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Points to be mindful of during the Astros-Indians American League Division Series…

Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch really couldn’t make any bad decisions with his bullpen roster selections: Lance McCullers/Will Harris/Josh James in, Hector Rondon/Brad Peacock/Joe Smith. McCullers’s pure talent and competitive fire got him his spot. Harris had a September 0.00 ERA, albeit covering just seven innings. James is a multi-inning option if a longer relief stint is needed. Rondon was bad in four out of five outings in a late season stretch. Lefthanded hitters put up huge numbers vs. Peacock this year and the Indians top three hitters are switch/lefty/switch. A little surprised Smith was left off but a bad final week of the season did him in. As always it will come down to performance and results.

These two teams have the AL pitchers who finished second through eighth in ERA among qualifiers. That’s amazing. Only AL Cy Young favorite Blake Snell of Tampa Bay was better.

The Indians led the American League in stolen bases this season with 135. As point of reference, the Astros stole 71. You never know how a given game or series will play out but given the caliber of starting pitchers on both teams, runs could be difficult to come by even for two potent offenses. The Indians will likely be aggressive when Brian McCann is behind the plate. Martin Maldonado is vastly better against the running game, but with the Indians using all righthanded starting pitchers we’ll have to see whether Hinch starts him or prefers to use Maldonado as a late inning defensive replacement or if McCann is lifted for a pinch hitter or pinch runner. Of course, you can’t steal second if you don’t figure out a way to reach first.

With the Indians adding Josh Donaldson their defense changes with Donaldson at third base, Jose Ramirez moving from third to second, and Jason Kipnis from second to centerfield. Kipnis is not a good center fielder. Neither Michael Brantley nor Melky Cabrera is confused with Gold Glove winning defense in the corner spots. The Astros love to run the bases aggressively, sometimes overly so. In this series they should be aggressive but mindful of that line between aggressive and dopey.

Three of the Tribe’s best four relief pitchers are lefties. The Astros overall hit lefties decidedly better than they did righties this season. That is why the single biggest Indian x-factor going in is how Terry Francona uses usual starter Trevor Bauer as a bullpen weapon.

Does either sleeping giant awaken? Carlos Correa hit a feeble .180 in 37 games played after his return from the disabled list. Indians stud Jose Ramirez finished with second tier MVP candidate numbers, but over his last 40 games Ramirez hit a feebler .166.

No disrespect

It certainly would have been better for more people wanting to attend or watch Game 1 for the Astros to have gotten the 3:15 start which went to the Brewers and Rockies. But the Astros not getting a prime time slot was not disrespect toward the reigning champs. It’s a business. Pure and simple, Red Sox-Yankees draws a larger audience than Astros-Indians so Sox-Yanks was getting the slot with the greater audience potential. Los Angeles is the only Friday site west of the central time zone so obviously Dodgers-Braves was going in the later evening slot.

Last call for Texans

The Texans better beat the Cowboys Sunday night or at 1-4 they become generally irrelevant in this city, certainly for as long as the Astros are in the postseason. Plus the Rockets tip off their regular season in less than two weeks.

J.J. Watt has been tremendous two games in a row, racking up five sacks and three forced fumbles. In fairly assessing his performance it has to be noted Watt primarily destroyed backup right tackles against the Giants and Colts. Cowboys RT La’el Collins is no All-Pro but should provide a better test of where Watt again sits on the scale of dominance.

Melo out, folks

I could almost hear the grousing of some fans when in his first two possessions in a Rockets’ uniform Carmelo Anthony first got completely lost defensively with his man hitting a wide open three point shot, then right back the other end the first time he touched the ball Melo bricked a three. Patience people! Anthony made a generally positive first impression. And who couldn’t think “what if?” after watching Chris Paul on two healthy hamstrings look absolutely fantastic. Topping last season’s 65 wins is an extremely ambitious goal, but the Rockets are going to be great. We have six months of excellence about to get going. If you are a Rockets’ fan don’t sweat the Warriors until May/June.

Buzzer Beaters

1. ARMY took Oklahoma to OT a couple of weeks ago. Opportunity knocks for the Longhorns to vault themselves to Big 12 regular season favorites.  2. The NHL season is underway. Just letting you know. 3. Best seasons: Bronze-summer Silver-spring Gold-fall.

 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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