The Pallilog

Astros still need help in the arms race; Westbrook trade gets Rockets back in the spotlight

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NBA wheeling and dealing dominated the first half of July, now it's baseball's turn with the one and now only trade deadline looming the 31st.

I've steadfastly been saying the Astros are extreeeemely likely to win the American League West and that their real race is for homefield advantage in the playoffs, with the Twins and Yankees in the American League and maybe the Dodgers for World Series homefield edge. Catching the Dodgers looks unlikely. The Astros have a better team than the Twins, and an easier remaining schedule in trying to catch the Yankees.

For at least a few days though take the Oakland A's seriously. If a team scores about as many runs as yours does, and allows about as many as yours does, that team is basically about as good as yours is. Looking at the rosters I'm not sure how it's the case but that basically is Oakland this season. Since a 19-25 start, the A's have ripped off a 36-17 stretch to enter the weekend within five and a half games of the Astros. They've kept rolling since a month ago losing their best starting pitcher (Frankie Montas) to an 80 game performance enhancing drug suspension. The Astros and A's have 11 head-to-head games left, the first three coming at Minute Maid Park Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

The Astros can win the World Series with the club they have now, especially once Carlos Correa rejoins the lineup. They could also get bounced in the Division Series. The addition of a starting pitcher has clearly grown in need. Who is selling and what prices are the questions. The Jays' Marcus Stroman? The Tigers' Matthew Boyd? The Marlins' Caleb Smith? The Mets are on the fringe of the Wild Card picture, would they auction Noah Syndergaard? The Giants have surged into the mass of mediocrity that is the NL Wild Card pic, that would seem to make them trading Madison Bumgarner less likely. It's not as if the Astros would be the lone bidder on any of these guys.

A big move

I was off last week when news surfaced of the Russell Westbrook to the Rockets/Chris Paul and draft picks to the Thunder blockbuster trade. With it becoming official this week, some thoughts. Of course the Rockets wanted to move the three years, 124 million dollars left on Paul's contract. Of course there was concern over lingering problems between Harden and Paul. Maybe they'd have worked through it, maybe not. Of course taking on an additional year and 47 million more guaranteed dollars entails risk. But right now Westbrook is clearly the better and more durable player. It will be fascinating to see how well (or not well) Westbrook and James Harden mesh. What they did together seven years ago (with Kevin Durant too!) when Harden was a 22 year old sixth man isn't particularly relevant now. As he did with Harden and Paul, Mike D'Antoni will stagger their minutes to have at least one on the floor at nearly all times. Yeah, well, how are things handled down the stretch of close games? Harden is the man, Westbrook is a lousy spot up shooter. So is the ball in Westbrook's hands with Harden spotting up? Hard to see a steady diet of that. When off the ball both guys generally play as statues. That needs to change.

Westbrook may be the most explosive inch for inch player we've ever seen. Absolutely Jordanesque-not as a player, but for sheer stunning athleticism Westbrook has been amazing to watch. He brings a one man transition game ability the Rockets haven't had in ages. The consistent force with which he plays is captivating, even when he lapses into out of control Russell mode. There has to be concern that slippage in his game began last season during which Westbrook turned 30. However it was a season in which he was still third team All-NBA.

While averaging a triple-double for a third consecutive season, Westbrook's shooting numbers were poor. His free throw shooting tumbled to an awful 66 percent. His mid-range make percentage was not good. Westbrook is literally one of the worst three point shooters in the 40 season NBA history of the shot. His 30.8% career number is woeful, and in four of the last five seasons Westbrook hasn't hit 30%. The only player to take within a 1000 3s of the 2995 Westbrook has jacked up, and make a feebler percentage of them: Charles Barkley. Westbrook has played 11 NBA seasons and not hit the league average percentage from three in any of them. The notion that he's suddenly going to become a marksman for the Rockets is silly. The idea that Westbrook will get better look threes? Come on. Defenses have loved Westbrook shooting threes for years.

In the end, I like the trade for the NOW of it. The Rockets have a title contending upside, and an it could crater downside. They could wind up forfeiting lottery picks (top four protected) in 2024 when Harden is ready to turn 34 and Westbrook approaching 36, and again in 2026. While Daryl Morey has probably gotten too loose with discarding first round picks (they haven't made one since 2015), are you really going to be hung up on the risks of five and seven years from now?

Buzzer beaters

1. Kyle Tucker should not be untouchable for a pitcher the Astros would control beyond this season. 2. By the advanced WAR (win above replacement) metric the Rangers have the two best AL pitchers this season. The Astros face Mike Minor Friday night and Lance Lynn Sunday. Justin Verlander ranks third as he starts opposite Minor 3. Best sports Halls of Fame to visit: Bronze-hockey, Toronto Silver-pro football, Canton Gold-baseball, Cooperstown


Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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