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

Astros Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve
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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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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