THE PALLILOG

Astros are hitting dingers at a historic pace, and we're here for it

Jose Altuve is crushing the baseball. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

The Astros and White Sox playing through the weekend at Minute Maid Park is their most interesting series since the 2005 World Series the ChiSox won in a sweep. Both are clear 2021 World Series contenders. We already know the Astros won't get swept four straight this time as their mashfest at the plate continued in Thursday's 10-2 coast of a series starting victory. So far in June the Astros are a spiffy 11-4. And have lost ground to American League West leading Oakland. The A's are 12-2 this month and take a two game division lead into the weekend.

The Astro offense is humming and then some, leading Major League Baseball in runs scored per game, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. The runs per game gap between the Astros and second-best Los Angeles Dodgers is larger than the gap from the Dodgers to 10th best. The Astros have hit at least two dingers in their last 10 games. That ties the MLB record set two years ago by an atrocious Orioles' squad that finished 54-108.

Jose Altuve's days of being a .340 hitter are almost certainly finished, and he has a paltry six doubles so far this season. But it's not like a .298 batting average is feeble, and with his home run surge at eight homers in his last 10 games Altuve is now on pace to hit 38 homers this season. 38! His career high of 31 was set two seasons ago. The single season record for a second baseman is 43, hit by Davey Johnson in 1973.

Michel Brantley is a .340 hitter this season. .342 to be exact going into Friday night. Since coming off the injured list he is hitting a mere .532 with 17 hits in 32 at bats. He's been a doubles machine though with diminished home run power. So naturally Brantley belted a three run shot in his first at bat Thursday, snapping a drought of 99 homerless ABs.

Losing Alex Bregman to a quad muscle pull for likely multiple weeks is a blow but if it had to happen this isn't the worst of times for it. Bregman is 0 for his last 19, and over his last 18 games hit just .174. In his first game replacing Bregman Abraham Toro homered and knocked in four.

While the offense can be overpowering it certainly isn't carrying the team. Over the last 18 games Astros' starting pitchers have a 2.38 earned run average.

Rockets looking to win the lottery

The NBA Draft lottery is Tuesday night. Hakeem Olajuwon will represent the Rockets on the freaks and geeks stage of non-playoff teams. The moment of truth for the Rockets is when the fifth pick envelope is opened. If it's a Rockets card it's a horrible blow to the pace of rebuilding efforts because the Rockets would lose the pick to Oklahoma City and in exchange get the 18th pick from Miami. When "The Athletic" asked General Manager Rafael Stone if dropping from top four to 18 would be a set back to the Rockets' rebuild, he absurdly said "not really." Either Stone was spinning in a spirit of optimism, or the Rockets have a not very smart guy as GM. He gets the benefit of the doubt toward the former. The Rockets have a 52.1 percent chance of keeping their pick.

The NBA coaching carousel is spinning hard. Seven vacancies, with another one or two possible. Rick Carlisle's sudden resignation in Dallas makes the Mavericks' opening the clearly best available gig. The Mavs have 22 year old superstar Luka Doncic and that's that. The Mavericks haven't won a playoff series since winning the NBA title back in 2011.

Doc Rivers's coaching job is presumably safe in Philadelphia but after blowing a 26 point lead at home to go down three games to two in their series vs. Atlanta, if the 76ers are taken out Doc adds to the worst gag job resume of any coach in NBA history. Three times Rivers has coached a team that blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven. No other coach has twice lost a series after leading 3-1. The Rockets did it to Rivers's Clippers in 2015. The Nuggets did it to Doc last year ending his tenure with the Clippers. Back in 2003 Doc was coaching Tracy McGrady and Orlando when the Detroit Pistons rallied from three games to one down and make the Magic disappear.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Rather cool and coincidental that the giveaway at Sunday's Astros-White Sox game is a Father's Day Carlos Correa jersey. Carlos and wife Daniella announced this week that they are expecting their first child.

2. If the Hawks eliminate the 76ers Clint Capela would be entitled to a hearty chuckle at Daryl Morey's expense.

3. With apologies to Starburst, Best fruit candies: Bronze-Chuckles Silver-Skittles Gold-Fruit Slices

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NASCAR is coming to Texas! Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s an All-Star weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway. As most fans know, this race is extremely different from what we see on a usual Sunday. This race is an invitational event featuring the winners from the 2021 and 2022 seasons with a few qualifiers including past champions and past All-Star winners over the last ten seasons. As it does every year, the format for this race has changed. It will be divided into four stages, and the winner of each of the first three stages will take up the first three spots on the grid (as long as they finish 15th or higher). The final stage will be fifty laps and if there is no caution between laps 15-25, then the yellow will be thrown to stack everything up. Probably the most important and intriguing change to the format won’t take place on race day, but during qualifying. The field will be given one lap and the fastest eight will advance to the final round, where they will each face-off head-to-head in a bracket. Each paring will have a mandatory pit-stop before exiting, and the first car back to the finish line moves on. This is a unique way of deciding who starts where, I would not be surprised in the slightest if it comes back somewhere down the line in the future

Last week, Kurt Busch went on to score his first victory of the year. It didn’t come easy for the 2004 champion, he had to fend off Kyle Larson and his brother Kyle Busch. The race was marred by numerous tire failures, as it seemed drivers could only go 25-35 laps before running into an issue. Luckily for Kurt, the cautions fell at the right time and he was able to manage his tires as he dominated the race by leading a race-high 116 laps. This was the first win for the #45 car at 23XII racing, as now both Busch and his teammate Bubba Wallace both have victories. While it’s been a frustrating season for this team, this win couldn’t have come at a better time.

While Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan celebrated their team win, Stewart-Haas racing was on the opposite end of the spectrum. All four of their cars finished outside the top ten, including their franchise driver Kevin Harvick. It’s worth noting that despite the disastrous day that he had, Harvick could bounce back with a respectable 15th-place finish. This team has a lot of questions regarding the future of their driver lineup. We know that next season Aric Almirola will retire, but after that who will fill the seat? Will it be their reserve driver Ryan Preece? Could it even be Kyle Busch? With these types of disappointing results from Harvick, many have wondered if he might decide to retire at the end of the 2022 season. This will be a team to follow in the coming months.

As we reach the dog days of summer, the infamous silly season is right around the corner. This is when the rumors start to become louder and louder about who will go next season and what rides will be available. As I mentioned earlier, Kyle Busch is easily the biggest question on the grid, with Mars leaving at season's end, can Joe Gibbs racing find him a sponsor to keep him in the #18 Toyota? There were reports on Thursday that the team was in negotiations with a “major tech company” to sponsor the car for one season. It’s clear that re-signing the two-time champion is the number one priority for Joe Gibbs and Toyota. TRD Executive David Wilson stated that losing him would be, “Unacceptable.” It will be interesting to see this story develop.

With that, the driver I have winning the All-Star Race this weekend is none other than Kyle Busch. Overall, it’s hard to find active drivers with better stats here at this track than him as he’s won here four times, the most among the field. He’s also led over 1,069 laps here, almost more than double the amount of the next closest driver (Martin Truex Jr with 674). When Jimmie Johnson stepped away from the sport in 2020, it was clear that the torch was handed over to Kyle as the best driver at this racetrack. He will be the driver to beat for the million dollars when the checkered flag falls.

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