THE PALLILOG

How the Astros can offset the loss of George Springer offensively

A healthy Yordan Alvarez would make a huge difference. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

With spring training scheduled to open in less than a month the Astros have more significant "ifs" attached to their hopes for success than they've had since exploding as elite in 2017.

Losing George Springer to the Blue Jays is an obvious bummer for Astros' fans. Springer and Jose Altuve were the last two player links to the Sucky Stros' era that built into the Golden Age that has now passed its peak. At six years 150 million dollars for a 31 year old, the Jays overpaid but did so tactically going for it as a large market franchise on an outstanding player of outstanding character.

The Astros cannot come close to replacing the overall talent of Springer who was clearly their best player in the shortened 2020 season, and second behind Alex Bregman in 2019. But the Astros did well in retaining Michael Brantley for two years 32 million, especially after multiple reports claimed Brantley was following Springer to the Jays. Unless Father Time makes a sudden move on him, Brantley, who turns 34 in May, is a rock steady dependable offensive player. Not as good as Springer, but very good.

Now for those "ifs." If Yordan Alvarez is healthy and hits at 85 percent of the clip he did as a rookie he offsets the loss of Springer offensively. If Jose Altuve rebounds from his horrid 2020. If Carlos Correa in his walk year finally has a healthy and heavy hitting season. If Bregman does what most expect him to do. With Brantley back that can be the nucleus of a very strong offense. Better if Yuli Gurriel bounces back from a wretched 2020 showing that was washed up looking.

The Astros need a plus defender centerfielder between Brantley in left and Kyle Tucker in right. Myles Straw is the cheap on-campus alternative. Free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. late of the Red Sox makes perfect sense if the price is deemed acceptable. Another plausability is a trade for gifted Tampa Bay glove man Kevin Kiermaier who Astros' General Manager James Click knows well from his time with the Rays. The defending American League champions would be probably be happy to send a check to cover some of the near 26 million dollars Kiermaier has coming over 2021 and '22 and a no-doubt buyout of '23.

Then there's the pitching. Any notion that Lance McCullers, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier are all likely to deliver quality full seasons in the starting rotation…is silly. Framber Valdez looks like the truth, but he is yet to have a full-length season of success. If ready to answer the bell Zack Greinke should be the opening day starter April 1st. Here's hoping it's April 1st.

The Astros are fortunate to be in the AL West. In the East they'd project behind the Yankees and Jays, and no one should leave the Rays for dead even with their loss of Charlie Morton and trade of Blake Snell. In the Central the Astros would slot behind the White Sox and maybe Twins. In the West, the A's have gotten worse on paper, the Angels haven't gotten markedly better, the Rangers and Mariners are likely to stink again. We still don't know how many teams will be included in the 2021 postseason. As of now it would revert to five teams per league. MLB wants seven but cannot go to that without agreement by the Players' Association.

Rockets roll the dice

The Rockets are not good enough. Which is putting things nicely. The pall that James Harden's presence had become is gone, but so is his talent. Harden was right, the Rockets weren't good enough with him. They certainly aren't without him. They are 4-9 and going nowhere fast. They bought low Thursday night in acquiring 20-year-old guard Kevin Porter Jr. from Cleveland. Raw, gifted, and immature. The last trait is why the Cavaliers dumped the last pick of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, for a second round pick. Porter had behavior problems during his one college season at USC, and recently with the Cavs. The Rockets take a shot.

The Rockets have no one who would be any better than the third best player on good teams. Plenty of mediocre to bad teams have better forwards than do the Rockets. P.J. Tucker's days of playing 30-plus minutes per game should be done effective immediately.

John Wall lasting seven mixed bag games before soreness in his twice operated on left knee has had him shut down for over a week now? Geez. Only about 125 mil guaranteed remaining on his deal. At least Russell Westbrook has been worse with the Wizards.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Do the Texans have a Head Coach yet? How about a clue, do they have one of those? Nevertheless, Deshaun Watson should stop with the coy tweets, though they can be fun to parse.

2. The Bills Sunday become the 11th of the 16 AFC teams to play in an AFC Championship Game since the Texans entered the league. The zeros with the Texans: Jets, Dolphins, Browns, and Bengals.

3. Most likely Super Bowl LV matchups (presuming Patrick Mahomes is healthy to play Sunday): Bronze-Bills/Packers Silver-Chiefs/Buccaneers Gold-Chiefs/Packers

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The Astros need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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