No love for first-place Astros in All-Star Game

Carlos Correa had the best case. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Baseball Is a Funny Game was a book written by the late player then broadcaster Joe Garagiola. He was right. How else to explain the Astros ripping off an 11 game winning streak, and then just days later getting swept out of Minute Maid Park by the pathetic Baltimore Orioles? That had the Astros hit the midpoint of the 162 game regular season schedule at 48-33. Offered 48-33 before Opening Day the Astros would gladly have locked it in. Matching that record in the second half would make for 96 wins (duh), almost certainly at least a Wild Card spot and probably the American League West title.

The Midsummer Classic

As voted by the fans, it's zero All Star Game starters for the Astros. It's the first time that's happened since 2014. That was the last bad Astros team. Still, while the 2021 Astros are quite good, nobody was "snubbed." Carlos Correa had the best case to start, in fact on the merits he is the most deserving American League shortstop. However, Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox is also having a huge season making him a reasonable choice. Likewise at second base Jose Altuve would have been a fine pick, but the Blue Jays' Marcus Semien has been a little bit better.

At 37 years old Yuli Gurriel would be a worthy first time All Star at first base, but that likely requires the AL going with at least three first basemen because fan pick Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the obvious right guy to start, with Oakland's Matt Olson the second best at first in the AL to this point. The injured Mike Trout won't be playing, so it's possible Michael Brantley could be added as a reserve outfielder and elevated to the starting lineup. Designated hitter Yordan Alvarez has not been up to his Rookie of the Year level (darn near impossible) but is having a fine season. Alas not close to as good as fan choice Shohei Ohtani, and not as good as J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz.

The All Star reserves and pitchers are named Sunday night. Closer Ryan Pressly deserves a spot. Since starting his season Framber Valdez has pitched like a Cy Young candidate, but not starting his season until Memorial Day weekend functionally disqualifies him. Zack Greinke is having a very solid season, but not of All Star quality, unless he is tapped to fill a spot opened up by injuries to several would be All Star hurlers.

After his grand slam Thursday night Altuve enters the weekend as the Astros' home run leader with 18. Correa has 15, Alvarez connected Thursday for his 14th. Kyle Tucker has hit 13. Who do you think leads at season's end?

NBA playoffs

What an injury ravaged NBA postseason it has been. Currently, the best player on the Bucks and Hawks are both sidelined from their Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Kawhi Leonard missed the entire Western Conference Finals. In prior rounds Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Mike Conley all broke down. That list doesn't include Ben Simmons who was shattered mentally.

Meanwhile Chris Paul stands healthy and tall, and in his 16th pro season is finally to play in the NBA Finals. How thankful is Paul that James Harden demanded the Rockets get rid of Paul two summers ago? After a one season stopover in Oklahoma City Paul has the Phoenix Suns in the Finals for the first time since 1993, while the Rockets count the days until the Draft hoping to jumpstart a makeover of what was the worst team in the NBA this season. The Suns have never won the championship. They wait on the Bucks or Hawks. Milwaukee last played for the title in 1974. Atlanta has never been in the Finals.

If the Bucks close out the Hawks in game six Saturday night, it will mark the end of the legendary broadcast career of Marv Albert. Here's hoping Marv gets a game seven on which to go out.

Have an excellent and safe July 4 weekend.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. With all due respect to Dusty Baker, it's flat out silly to EVER bat an Abraham Toro or Robel Garcia second in the same lineup that has Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker slotted fifth and sixth.

2. What a punk out playoff exit by Patrick Beverley.

3. Funniest baseball books: Bronze-Ron Luciano, The Umpire Strikes Back Silver-Sparky Lyle, The Bronx Zoo Gold-Bob Uecker, Catcher in the Wry.

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We'll see if Watson is in pads on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans.

The Houston Texans had their last practice before pads come on for the first time on Tuesday. There was plenty to see on Monday.

1. Deshaun Watson had his usual extremely light level of work. He did very little throwing to teammates, though he did throw to the tight ends in 1-on-1 drills.

2. Texans head coach David Culley said "nothing has changed" when asked if Deshaun Watson will be in pads Tuesday. Culley has maintained that answer for a couple of sessions now.

3. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was back after missing Saturday with an excused personal day. Taylor has been the best quarterback in camp by a wide margin. Taylor makes better decisions with the football than other quarterbacks, but he does struggle on deeper passes. Taylor missed wildly on one deep ball and was a little wobbly on another.

4. Nobody in camp can cover wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This could be the easiest training camp of his life. He easily gets open in 1-on-1 situations.

5. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins continues to flash his abilities in camp. Collins easily shook loose from defensive back John Reid and took the route vertical for an easy score. Collins later had a tough catch in traffic.

6. It's only been a few days, but the competition for inside wide receiver reps is tough. Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has looked quick and nothing like the "draft bust" the Bears fans watched. Keke Coutee has rarely lost a rep, but Desmond King did win a few times over Coutee in the opening days of camp. Former Bengals wideout Alex Erickson finds himself constantly open. The cuts at wide receiver are already shaking out to be difficult.

7. Davis Mills bounced back in a sense that he couldn't be worse than he was on Saturday. The performance from Mills on Saturday was abysmal, but head coach David Culley said he liked how Mills responded today. With Tyrod Taylor back, there were fewer reps for Mills, but he had some impressive throws to go along with an off-target throw or two. Mills was far better than Jeff Driskel on Monday. Driskel tossed two interceptions right to defenders, including one that would've gone the wrong way for a score.

8. This linebacker group is interesting. With a new defensive scheme under Lovie Smith, the type of linebacker is very different from previous years. There was a clear emphasis on cover ability as these linebackers were added to the team.

9. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis have both had some significant wins for the linebackers in coverage.

10. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looks the part physically, but he's had a rough few days, including a drop on Monday.

11. With the pads coming on Tuesday, it will be fun to watch the rebuilt defensive line clash with the many combinations of the offensive line. There will be no J.J. Watt who historically stirred up the team on day one of pads. Laremy Tunsil's cool confidence about the offensive line over the weekend leads me to believe they are a confident group, while there are spots to be won on the defensive side of the line.

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