The Pallilog

Charlie Pallilo: Astros embark on key road trip

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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How Astros retribution campaign hinges on solving outfield balancing act

While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.

The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).

Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?

Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.

Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?

Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!

Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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