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


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So the Houston Astros, using cameras and video monitors and a labyrinthine baseball-bat-and-trash-can notification system, were stealing signs from opposing teams. From all indications, this is cheating and this is not kosher.

Let me just clarify that:

You are allowed to steal signs, you just can't do it electronically. In other words, it is really not wrong until you utilize the best means of technology.

Got it. I accept this, because, well, I don't feel like arguing this.

(I guess I'm glad the medical profession doesn't use this same standard. Uh, we could treat your headaches with Ibuprofen and heating pads, but let's stick with the ancient method of an elixir containing human blood and drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure.)

The Astros deserved MLB's punishment, but, as a student of history, Couch Slouch would like to point out that there have been multiple instances of similar swindling, defrauding, scamming, flimflamming, hoodwinking, fleecing, shafting, video-sign-stealing chicanery in modern and pre-modern times.

For your edification, here are some prominent examples:

Socrates and Plato: In an attempt to outsmart his perpetually smug teacher at the third annual Greek National Spelling Bee held at the Grand Hyatt Athens in 401 B.C., Plato sparked controversy by employing shadow puppets on the brightly lit north wall of the banquet hall to help him spell out different entries. The winning word: "aëricumbens."

Marie Antoinette: The somewhat unpopular queen of France hired a sketch artist to secretly document agitators cutting into bread lines. Once the drawings were discovered, along with a recording of her saying, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" she was guillotined on Oct. 16, 1793 outside of a Le Pain Quotidien just before the lunch rush.

Burr-Hamilton duel: On the morning of July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton met at a dueling ground in Weehawken, N.J., near Bed Bath & Beyond. They agreed to stand back-to-back, then each would take 10 paces before firing. But Burr had one of his seconds hold a large vanity mirror in front of him, so he could see precisely where Hamilton was at the conclusion of the 10 steps. Burr then fired a fatal shot into Hamilton's lower abdomen.

Battle of the Little Bighorn: As George Armstrong Custer led U.S. troops toward Little Bighorn Valley on June 25, 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse utilized two sublime tactics to outmaneuver the lieutenant colonel: A primitive GPS device, tracking the government soldiers' movement via Pringles left on the incoming trail, combined with smoke signals sent back to the camp. This allowed Native American forces to ambush Custer and his infantry.

"Rear Window": In direct violation of HOA regulations, photographer J.J. "Jeff" Jefferies – confined to his condo because of a broken leg – routinely used binoculars to eavesdrop on his Greenwich Village neighbors in 1954. This led him to witnessing a marital spat, followed by his suspicions that the husband killed his wife and buried something incriminating in the garden. The neighbor was arrested but eventually acquitted of murder charges while Jefferies got convicted under the city's recently enacted peeping Tom laws.

Macy's vs. Gimbels: During the famed department-store rivalry in the 1960s and '70s, Gimbels – using a Polaroid camera with a telephoto lens – took snapshots of Macy's shoppers' credit cards as they paid at the register to steal customers. Did Gimbels tell Macy's? No. But Macy's found out through an anonymous whistleblower; Gimbels lost face and went out of business in 1986.

New York City garbage strike: Boy, the streets sure stank of garbage when the sanitation workers walked out in 1968. Teamsters leaders sped up talks the old-fashioned way – they woke up city negotiators each morning with one trash can thrown through a living room window, with two trash cans on off-days and three on weekends. When all else failed, they took a baseball bat to Mayor John Lindsay's office and asked him if he wanted to step outside.

New England Patriots: Uh, duh.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Agent Drew Rosenhaus terminated his relationship with Antonio Brown until the free-agent wide receiver seeks help. Exactly what type of help? (Ron Kirkpatrick; Chicago)

A. Frankly, I thought Brown might end his relationship with Rosenhaus until ITAL he END ITAL got help.

Q. Are the regular LSU boosters annoyed they were not invited to personally hand out cash to the players in the Superdome after the championship win? (Mike Soper; Washington, D.C.)

A. Nah, that was scheduled for the Red Lobster in Baton Rouge the following afternoon.

Q. Given their history, would it count toward diversity if the Cleveland Browns hired their first competent coach? (Rich Tucker; Falls Church, Va.)

A. We may never find out.

Q. Would MLB have considered managing the Mets punishment enough for Carlos Beltran's role in the Astros cheating scandal? (Stuart Gavurin; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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