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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans out-Patriot the Patriots

Texans take down the Pats. Photo by Getty Images.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right two times a day. All the clichés about it being better to be lucky than good can apply here with the Texans 27-20 win over the Patriots. In a matchup that broke a record for the oldest combined age for opposing head coaches, 141 years old, Romeo Crennel beat his former boss Bill Belichick. There were other narratives at work here, as well as a few things (good and awful) that the coaching staff did.

First thing I saw that I liked was the spread and no-huddle on offense. If you've been following this series of articles, you know I've been on this train quite a while now. This allows Deshaun Watson to find the matchup he likes, exposes the defense because they can't sub, takes advantage of Texans' speed at receiver, and creates a tempo most defenses can't keep up with. Not to mention the spread is the offense Watson operated in at Clemson. 28/37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns of production from Watson was enough for me to say they need to have this as their M.O. moving forward.

Tim Kelly called a great game. He used the short, quick pass game in lieu of the run game. This also helped since Laremy Tunsil was out and Roderick Johnson had to play at left tackle. This offensive line is not very good at run blocking. Hence, why Watson was again the team's leading rusher with only 36 yards. Almost all of those were on scrambles. By going spread and no-huddle, Watson can take advantage of man and zone coverages to extend plays or scramble because most teams won't spy him. Even when they do, he makes them look silly.

Not everything was on the up and up. The defense continued to look like booty juice. Cam Newton threw for 365 yards and Damiere FREAKIN Byrd torched them for 132 of those yards! When I heard the quote from Crennel that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is getting the most out of his guys, I found it laughable. To double down on that, Weaver was quoted as saying, "This narrative that's being painted like my guys aren't disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly and to put it bluntly, is bull---t!" Sorry guys, but you're both wrong. This defense can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag if you gave them knives. The worst part about it is that the offense's best chance at success sets the defense up for failure. Their hurry up scheme leaves little time for this porous defense to catch its wind. If they could get some turnovers or just off the damn field and get stops, it would help the offense.

With six games left, their three games outside the AFC South (Bengals, Lions, Bears) are all winnable. The two matchups against the Colts and the season finale against the Titans will prove to be their biggest tests. However, this is the same team that has four one possession losses. 3-7 could look a lot different if the offense stepped up against the Browns, or the defense made stops against the Steelers, Vikings, or Titans. Let's hope they can build off this win and salvage whatever they can of this season.

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