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."


Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

Jason Behnken / Getty Images

Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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