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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Yuli Gurriel had a monster night at the plate Friday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Although they lost the series 2-1, the Astros ended their road trip with a nice win over the Yankees to head home on a positive note. On Friday, they welcomed in the Toronto Blue Jays and former teammate George Springer, currently on the IL, to start a three-game series and long homestand. They had an excellent night at the plate, along with a strong start from Jose Urquidy, cruising past the Blue Jays to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 17-15, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Ross Stripling (0-2)

Jays strike first, then Houston responds and never looks back

It first appeared that Urquidy may be in for a long night, giving up two solo home runs early in Friday's game, one to Bo Bichette in the top of the first with one out to put Toronto up 1-0, then another to Danny Jansen in the top of the third. However, Urquidy would lock-in, and his offense would back him up strongly.

Houston ended up sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on a homer by Carlos Correa, then later loading the bases to set up an RBI walk by Alex Bregman. In the bottom of the fifth, with a one-run lead at 3-2, Yuli Gurriel expanded the lead to three runs on a two-run shot.

Gurriel went on to have a fantastic night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with 4 RBI. His third of those came in the bottom of the seventh, extending the lead again with an RBI single to make it 6-2. Kyle Tucker made it a five-run game that same inning with an RBI double, then more insurance came in the bottom of the eighth. They reached double-digits that inning, with Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel, his fourth of the night, all getting an RBI to make it 10-2.

Urquidy finishes seven, then Emanuel finishes it off

Those gave Urquidy plenty of support, though he would bounce back after the two early homers and have a nice night on the mound. He allowed just two other hits, working around both, en route to a seven-inning two-run performance to earn him the win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 P.

He likely could have gone longer, but Dusty Baker turned the ball over to Kent Emanuel to wrap things up with the significant lead. He did so, despite allowing a two-run home run to former-Astro Teoscor Hernandez in the top of the ninth to make the score 10-4. The win kept the Astros above .500 and two games back of the A's, who sit atop the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 6:10 PM start Saturday night. The pitching matchup will be Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA) for Toronto and the electric Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) for Houston.

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