THE PALLILOG

Houston Astros dynastic aspirations could all come down to this combo of shrewd moves, performances

The Astros head back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

Sports doesn't get more tension-filled and compelling than a close game seven of a championship series. Of course, leading the World Series three wins to two the Astros want no part of a game seven Sunday night with the Phillies at Minute Maid Park. The cases of champagne are ready. The Astros have two shots if needed to uncork the bubbly.

The idea that the Astros have the momentum is meaningless. Momentum is basically recency bias. In 2019 the Astros came home up 3-2 after sweeping three games in Washington DC. They had all the momentum! A lot of good it did them as the Nationals took games six and seven at MMP to win the series. Last year in Atlanta the Astros headed home after staving off elimination by winning game five. Momentum reseized! And then the Braves routed the Astros in game six to wrap up the title.

The Astros do have the substantially better position and the obviously better team heading into game six, but the money is not yet in the bank. Assume nothing! The starting pitching matchup is a rematch of game two, in which Framber Valdez vastly outpitched Zack Wheeler. One early tell will be whether the Phils are better prepared for Framber's curveball which bamboozled and dominated them. On the other side, the Astros smacked around Wheeler, who was given extra rest ahead of game six after his game two velocity dipped a few miles per hour below its norm.

If there is a decisive game seven, Cristian Javier should get the start. Yes he's never gone on three days rest and yes the track record of short rest starters is not good for a while now. Lance McCullers's historically inept game three performance came on the road. The Astros have not grasped that Lance is much better at home (or they at least have not planned accordingly). McCullers will have four days rest ahead of game seven. Still, whether McCullers was tipping pitches while getting shellacked and now he and the Astros clean it up, Javier is better. I mean, who would you trust more? Who would the Phillies rather face?

Literally every pitcher on the roster would be available out of the bullpen in a game seven. Javier's leash can be short. Not that Dusty Baker should make huge decisions via fan (or media) vote, but if Dusty starts Javier and Cristian gets hit hard, the prevailing Astro fan reaction would be "Darn it!" Or something vaguely and untypably similar. If Dusty starts McCullers and Lance got hit hard again, the prevailing Astro fan reaction would be more "Dusty you dumb-dumb, you have to go!"

Changing of the guard

Refresh my memory. Who was the Astros' shortstop before Jeremy Peña? Carlos Correa had numerous big postseason moments with the Astros, but with one more win, Peña's rookie postseason becomes the stuff of Astro legend. Over the five years of trips to five American League Championship Series and three World Series with Correa, Carlos had excellent playoffs in 2017 and in the fanless 2020 season, not so good the other years. Peña has a track record to build, but he has delivered massive hits on the road in every series: the 18th inning series winning home run at Seattle, the game four game-tying homer at the Yankees, and then Thursday night the tiebreaking homer in Philadelphia. Studly.

Reminder: Correa made 35.1 million dollars this season, Peña 700 thousand (he will get some bonus money from the new pre-arbitration eligible player performance rewards pool). Next year Correa will haul in whatever crazy money he hauls in during free agency, Peña will get whatever small raise the Astros choose to give him. Same holds true for 2024 unless Peña and the Astros agree on a multi-year contract at some point. The Astros control Peña through the 2027 season.

JV came through when it mattered

Credit to Justin Verlander for grinding through five innings of one run ball and finally getting the zero out of the win column in his World Series ledger. His command again wasn't sharp, but guile, grit, and some big two out pitches were enough. If Verlander chooses to move on in free agency or the Astros move on from him for payroll flexibility, it was a parting start of which he can be proud and a start that served the Astros' needs.

Help wanted: Designated hitter

Provided Yordan Alvarez is in left field, maybe the Astros can get some sort of roster waiver allowing them to raffle off the game six designated hitter role for charity. Mattress Mack? Or maybe Jeff Bagwell could take a couple nostalgic swings? Who has looked worse between Trey Mancini and Aledmys Diaz is a tough one. David Hensley is the by default option, since using Christian Vàzquez seems not a consideration.

Since destroying Seattle in the first two games of the Division Series, Yordan has done very little damage offensively. Maybe he has a moonshot ready to end the postseason in the style he began it.

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James Harden returned to Houston Monday night and lost to the Rockets in double overtime. After the game, Harden complimented the maturation of the Rockets young players, and had some nice things to say about Houston.

Harden has a player option and can opt out after the season, which has some Rockets fans wondering if he would consider returning to Houston and taking over as the team's primary ball handler.

Plus, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has said he wouldn't rule out Harden returning at some point.

Be sure to watch the video above as we break down all the angles involving a potential fit for James Harden with Houston's young core of players, and much more.

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