THE PALLILOG

At this point, Astros just adding to an amazing season

How many feathers can the Astros fit in their caps?

They almost added a doozy Wednesday night when Zack Greinke took his no-hit bid to the ninth inning in Seattle. No team in Major League Baseball history has pitched three no-hitters in the same season. Alas that's still the case, but boy the Astros came close to being the first.

If the flat out most talented top to bottom team is to win the World Series next month, it will be the Astros. No one else has a better shot, but winning it is far from likely. This is the 25th season since the implementation of the Wild Card. Only six times in 24 years has the team with best record in the regular season then won the World Series. There simply is no such thing as a massive upset in a three out of five or four out of seven playoff series. It looks like the American League Wild Card game (the winner of which will head to Houston) will match the A's and Rays. The A's would have plenty of reason to be confident against the Astros, having taken three out of four from them twice within a month. From June 15 forward the A's have the better record. That's more than half the season. But it could be all over for the A's in one Wild Card game loss. The Astros went 3-4 vs. the Rays. Losing three of four in St. Petersburg to open the season. The Astros have no reason to fear anybody, but Oakland looks to be the less desirable opponent. As a clincher, Oakland is a much longer flight.

A.J. Hinch should be pondering a couple of things heading into the postseason. After his hot April Josh Reddick hasn't been a good player this year. Kyle Tucker has swung the bat well since his call up. Tucker starting in right field with Reddick off the bench merits consideration. Michael Brantley has collapsed the last month. His last double was on August 22. Whether he's worn down a bit or just in a protracted slump, there is no compelling reason to keep Brantley third in the batting order with Yordan Alvarez in the five hole. Hey, Brantley could catch fire in the playoffs while Alvarez could fall on his face. But off of a season body of work and more recent performance, why would you bat the clearly superior weapon two spots lower in the order?

Alex Bregman has obviously had the best season of all everyday player Astros. Bregman's American League Most Valuable Player case has gathered strength, though it's homerism to think he definitely should win. Equally obvious, George Springer has had the second best season. Springer's recent 11 home runs in 16 games eruption reminded that had he not spent a month on the injured list he might be right there with Bregman as an MVP alternative to Mike Trout. If not for the IL stint, maintaining his rate of production in the games he has played would mean Springer would have more homers and RBI than Bregman. Springer would have blown past 100 RBI and become the third player ever to post 100 RBI from the leadoff spot. Darren Erstad sold his soul to the devil for his 2000 season with the Angels, Charlie Blackmon did it two years ago but only because he plays home games in the offensive freak show environment that is Denver.

Bigger Springer numbers going forward, contract numbers. He's making 12 million dollars this season. Next season that should jump to 17-20 million, then without an extension agreed upon he'd become a free agent. Springer turned 30 last week, he can't be a free agent until he's 31, so that he'd command some six or seven year deal on the open market is basically out of the question. This offseason, if you're George Springer, would you take, say, four years 85 million, for generations of financial security. If you're the Astros, with their skyrocketing payroll, would you offer it? We wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs. If the Astros keep Cole, trading Zack Greinke is a distinct possibility. If the Astros keep Justin Verlander, Cole, and Greinke? Stunning.

The Texans are two home wins from taking a 4-1 record to Kansas City in a couple of weeks. Their wins over the Jaguars and Chargers weren't masterful performances. The Texans benefitted greatly from The Jags and Bolts each being down at least four starters. But style points and level of impressiveness don't matter. At 2-1 the Texans are four and a half point favorites over the Panthers. Win Sunday and they'll certainly be favored next week over the Falcons.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It's only vs. the Shanghai Sharks, but first Russell Westbrook as a Rocket action is Monday. Presuming he plays some. 2. Anyone really think it's better than 50/50 D'Eriq King plays at UH next season? 3. Notable sports quitters: Bronze-Randy Moss, most plays when not the primary recieverSilver-Scottie Pippen playoff game vs. KnicksGold-Roberto Duran "No Mas."


Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome