The Pallilog

Charlie Pallilo: Astros embark on key road trip

Jose Altuve's injury is lingering. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

There is nothing make or break for the Astros about this six game road trip that has them in Oakland for three then Seattle for three, but the set with the Athletics is the Astros’ biggest regular season series in almost two years. In 2016 the Astros were a mediocre team but in the hunt for a Wild Card spot. They were just one game out with 10 to play, then petered out with a 3-7 finish to wind up 84-78. Last year there wasn’t another good team in the American League West and the Astros had the division functionally clinched before Memorial Day. The Angels finished second, 21 games back at 80-82. This year the A’s have evolved into a legitimate threat, the Mariners don’t quite look up to it but are certainly pretty good on the back of relief ace Edwin Diaz and the M’s terrific record in one-run and extra inning games.

With the Astros starting the trek two games ahead of the A’s and four and a half up on the M’s, a .500 trip would be OK, a winning trip likely restores clear command of the division race. Last year the Astros stunk in August. The Dodgers had an 11 game losing streak in September. Building momentum for the postseason means nothing. It’s about getting into the postseason, and avoiding the Wild Card game in doing so. The Astros have no chance at catching the Red Sox for the best record in the AL. Their once huge lead over Cleveland has dwindled. The most likely AL Division Series matchup is Astros vs. Indians. Even though the Astros home record this season is a mediocre 33-29 while their road play has been phenomenal, you absolutely want home field for a postseason series. Last licks are a fundamental advantage.

The Astros are tending to much more important business, but it is a bummer that it’s all but over for Jose Altuve racking up at least 200 hits for a fifth consecutive season. Altuve’s “it’s nothing” knee problem turned out to be quite a problem. As I say on the radio upon occasion, “attendance is part of the grade.” Altuve has missed too many games to have a remotely plausible shot at amassing the 66 hits he is short of 200 for the season. A reminder that Pete Rose and Ty Cobb maxed out at three straight 200 hit seasons.  Which makes it darn near unbelievable that Ichiro Suzuki reached 200 each of his first 10 seasons in MLB. Though Ichiro’s best as an offensive player wasn’t really close in overall quality to Cobb’s best, Rose’s best, or what Altuve did the last two seasons. It doesn’t look good for Altuve’s shot at a fourth batting title either. There’s no shame in .329, but Mookie Betts keeps hovering around .350.

Football talk

Texans and Niners in the preseason home opener Saturday night!!! Did three exclamation points make it sound remotely exciting? I hope not. A tip of the cap to and a sanity check for all those tailgating mid-afternoon on a 96 degree day. What could be more sensible than getting a hot grill going while hanging out in an asphalt parking lot? But if you have a burger or some BBQ for me…

Like last week Deshaun Watson will hardly play in preseason game number two, Jimmy Garoppolo probably not a whole lot more for the 49ers (the ripoff that is the NFL preseason marches on!). They may be the two most intriguing quarterbacks in the NFL starting this season: Watson having torn up the league for five games before tearing up an ACL, Garoppolo having led the Niners to victory in all five of his starts to end last season.

All about the beard

James Harden’s JH-Town Weekend raising money for his charitable foundation is a cool deal. Hope the related activities are calmer than it sounds like some of Harden’s activities were last weekend. Harden is mentioned in a Scottsdale Arizona police investigation into a nightclub incident. Some club girl evidently claims Harden yanked a phone from her hand and chucked it. Club girl wound up going to the hospital claiming an injured wrist. Look, I think most people who shoot cellphone video hoping for something they can peddle to the TMZs of the world are losers. But a rule for all: you can’t be knocking/grabbing phones out of people’s hands who are perfectly within the bounds of the law with their actions, even if they are loser-esque actions.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Sorry Daryl Morey, LeBron James is not the best ever “by a bit of a big margin.”  2. But he may be the best ever. Jordan, Wilt, and Kareem are the only alternatives. 3. Best Aretha Franklin songs: Bronze-A Natural Woman  Silver-Freeway of Love Gold-Respect. Of course.

 

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 preview, picks

Watch out for Ryan Blaney this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s a Memorial Day Tradition; The NASCAR Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the annual Coca-Cola 600. This race is probably the third most crucial race all season, behind the Daytona 500 and the Season Finale at Phoenix. Anyone who wins this race will always be able to say that they were Coke 600 champions. No race on the schedule is as long as this one, because of this there will be a 4th stage added to the race. Teams will be provided 13 sets of tires, and if the last few weeks have been any indication, they will need all the tires they can get. With the race being as long as it is, there is a good possibility this could be an attrition race and the driver that survives will more than likely win. The record for the most cautions in NASCAR history was 22 cautions, at this same race in 2005. Come Sunday, I bet we get close to that number.

What's the deal with all of these tire failures? Last week in the All-Star race we saw drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones all crash out because they had a flat. There are many factors that could be contributing to this, for one the tires are much wider and the sidewalls are much more narrow. Because of this, the tire falloff is much shorter, so now instead of going maybe 40-45 laps on one set of tires, drivers can now only go 25-30 laps. The other major facet is that a lot of teams are running much lower air pressures to get the car to handle better by being closer to the ground. Goodyear and NASCAR usually require the right side tires to run around 51-52 PSI, the rule however isn’t enforced for the left side tires, so drivers will push the limits to see how much they can take out to make the car faster. The fact that we were seeing such tire ware on smooth surfaces like Texas and Atlanta is a clear sign that there is a problem, but not all of it is on Goodyear. Only time will tell how this develops on tracks with old abrasive surfaces, like when they go back to Bristol in the fall.

One of NASCAR’s newest teams, Trackhouse racing, made a bit of a surprise announcement this week. Starting at Watkins Glenn in August, the team will run a third car with a series of international drivers, starting with 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is something that I think is interesting for the sport. I am a bit surprised that another team hasn’t already done this before. Having drivers like Kimi, one of the more world renowned racers in F1, can really bring a whole new audience to NASCAR. There have been rumors on whom some of the other drivers might be, from Daniel Riccardo to even Lewis Hamilton. There will be a lot of intrigue about who will be the next driver.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. After winning the All-Star race, it seems like Roger Penske and the rest of the Ford camp are picking up steam. Overall, Blaney tends to struggle at this track with an 18.8 average finish, but if last week is any indication of how his car will run on mile and halves like Charlotte, he will be a fierce contender for the win.

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