THE PALLILOG

Here's how the Astros stack up against Chris Sale and the Red Sox

Framber Valdez will start Game 1 against Chris Sale. Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images.

There were a lot of people furious about Major League Baseball basically forcing the Astros to switch to being an American League team starting with the 2013 season. The owners would not approve Jim Crane and partners' purchase of the club from Drayton McLane unless the incoming owners agreed to go to the AL. I'd say it's worked out pretty well. Crane and his partners got a 65 million dollar rebate on their purchase price for accepting the move, and the Astros Friday night play in their fifth consecutive American League Championship Series.

The loss of Lance McCullers is a blow, but does not change the Astros being the favorite to win the pennant. It does tighten things up. The decision to use McCullers in the successful bid to close out the White Sox meant he would have started game three and a prospective game seven vs. Boston. McCullers was the stingiest starting pitcher in the AL this year in terms of giving up home runs. The Red Sox can mash with the Astros. Boston will run out a lineup with seven guys who hit at least 20 homers this season. Rafael Devers, Kyle Schwarber, and Hunter Renfroe all topped 30.

After the obvious choice of Framber Valdez to start game one, Dusty Baker is going the way he should have against Chicago, opting for Luis Garcia in game two at home. That means in games three and four at Fenway Park it's Jose Urquidy and either, gulp, Zack Greinke or Jake Odorizzi. The Red Sox will be patching things together themselves.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora made an interesting call going with Chris Sale as his game one starting pitcher, holding back Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi until game two Saturday afternoon. Sale has been terrible in his last two starts. Most recently he went against the Rays in game two of their Division Series and lasted one inning, torched for five runs. In 2017 the Astros began their postseason run to winning the World Series by blasting Sale in game one of the ALDS. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Altuve took Sale deep again in the fifth, then in the seventh hit his third homer of the game off of reliever Austin Mattox. The Astros won that series in four games, with Sale taking the loss in relief in the finale. In the 2018 AL Championship Series the Astros beat Sale in game one, though the Sox swept the next four games.

Astros in six seems a decent chuck at the prediction dart board.

Meanwhile over in the National League, despise the Dodgers or not (okay…despise them) only the foolhardy lacks respect for them. The reigning World Series champs survived the Wild Card game against the Cardinals that was tied 1-1 in the ninth, then Thursday won a decisive game five at San Francisco that was tied 1-1 in the ninth. The Dodgers play the Atlanta Braves in a rematch of last year's NLCS, which the Braves led three games to one before the Dodgers took the last three games.

Texans vs. Colts

The 1-4 Texans are at 1-4 Indianapolis Sunday. You pumped up?!? Next week at least brings an interesting subplot when the Texans head to Arizona. A couple of guys named Watt and Hopkins are no doubt enjoying life with the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL. J.J. is thus far sackless with his new team. DeAndre is on pace for his lowest reception total since his rookie season, but has four touchdown catches. The 5-0 Cardinals get tested at Cleveland Sunday. As for Texans-Colts? Of the 12 games in the NFL Sunday Texans at Colts is definitely one of them.

NCAA

What a win for Texas A&M over Alabama, following losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State. Sports! The Aggies can't help but have some emotional letdown this week, but still should have enough to win at Missouri. For Texas meanwhile, what is the bounce back after the Longhorns' gut wrenching loss to Oklahoma? Oklahoma State arrives in Austin with a 5-0 record and ranked number 12 in the nation.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. The Rockets open their season Wednesday at Minnesota. Their season projects to deliver not many wins but much future promise. The Rockets will be rooting for the Astros-Red Sox series to end in five games max. If there is a game six, it's Friday night at Minute Maid Park while the Rockets play their home opener.

2. Would the Astros become even bigger "villains" if they roll to the World Series crown by tearing apart the Red (Sox), White (Sox), and (Dodger) Blue?

3. Greatest Mookies: Bronze: Spike Lee's character in "Do the Right Thing." Silver: Pearl Jam (original name Mookie Blaylock) Gold: Betts

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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