Charlie Pallilo: Astros prepare for title defense by locking up Altuve

Jose Altuve's deal is massive, but it makes sense for everyone. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Behold the first weekend of spring! Our last weekend without Major League Baseball (that counts) for seven months. The Astros head home from Florida Sunday with things as ideally in place as they could ask to begin pursuit of back-to-back World Series championships. Yuli Gurriel’s injury shouldn’t have lingering effects and without him the Astros still have a stacked lineup. Spring training statistics and team results mostly mean nothing, but other than Charlie Morton getting shelled Thursday, all five pitchers who make up the season starting rotation have been sharp throughout the Grapefruit League season.

The major item of the Astros’ week was Jose Altuve signing what amounts to a five year, $151 million dollar contract extension. With Altuve having been signed for six mil for 2018, and the Astros owning a six and a half million dollar for option for 2019, it’s a new seven year, $163.5-million dollar deal. That shatters the Astros largest ever expenditure for a single player. The deal is both staggering and sensible. Altuve gets richly deserved generational wealth, the Astros secure Altuve through (presumably) the rest of his prime without being on the hook at onerous terms for a player in his late 30s for early 40s—see Pujols comma Albert and Cabrera comma Miguel. Altuve will be 34 years old at the end of the deal. Who knows how good he’ll still be then? If still a superstar he can command another, shorter-term, fat contract. If not, so be it.

Altuve getting the megamoney two seasons before he would have been eligible for free agency offers a possible timing template for the contract which could blow away Jose’s. The Astros control Carlos Correa for this season and the three after it, making free agency possible after the 2021 campaign. Altuve would have hit the market heading into the season during which he turns 30 years old. Correa will have just turned 27 when he becomes free agent eligible. As MLB revenues control to grow and grow and grow, it’s not absurd to think Correa could more than double Altuve’s haul in his next deal.

Jose Altuve has racked up 200 or more hits four consecutive seasons. If he averages 200 over the seven years of the contract, his career total at the end of 2024 will be 2750. That’s one flash perspective on what an achievement amassing 3000 hits is.

Aggies ousted

What an embarrassment for Texas A&M last night. And then there was the game. It was glaring how much Michigan fan presence was on hand relative to A&M backers. It’s not as if Los Angeles is more convenient to get to from Ann Arbor. Not that the Aggies gave their limited supporters on hand any reason to whoop and holler. In a ridiculously non-competitive game Michigan destroyed the sloppy and undisciplined Ags 99-72. Shockingly lopsided after how tremendous the Ags were in dismantling North Carolina. So much for Texas A&M reaching its first ever Elite Eight.

The Spirit of Aggieland fundamentally lacks zeal for basketball, but if the Ags had somehow made the Final Four, San Antonio would have been painted largely maroon next weekend.  If you’re a Houston Cougar fan I understand you thinking, “Man, if not for the Wolverines breaking our hearts with that second round buzzer beater, we’d be playing for a spot in the Final Four Saturday!” Maybe, maybe not. We’ll never know.

Rockets doing historic things

The resume for this remarkable Rockets’ season now reads 58 wins 14 losses. Home court advantage as long as they’re alive in the NBA playoffs isn’t officially locked down, but the race is over. 58-14! That ties the franchise record for wins in a season with 10 games still to play, so these Rockets will put the total posted by the eventual 1993-94 NBA Champions far in the rearview mirror. Even with the likelihood of resting James Harden and Chris Paul over the final week or so of the regular season (as soon as the best record in the NBA is formally clinched), the Rockets could get to 65 wins.

No doubt Harden, Paul, and the team have plenty to prove through the postseason ahead. But this regular season is a massive stand-alone accomplishment. The Magic/Kareem Showtime Lakers dynasty of the 80s posted exactly one season of 65+ wins. Same for the 80s Bird/McHale/Parish Celtics. The Bill Russell 11 NBA titles in 13 years Celtics never won 65 in a season (most of those years the regular season was 80 games not 82, but none of the Russell teams ever won 63).

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you’d like a drinking game when watching Michigan-Florida St. Saturday, take a sip every time Reggie Miller says “here.” Small sips, or you may be unconscious by halftime.   2. Bull Durham was outstanding. But… 3. Best baseball related movies: Bronze-Field of Dreams Silver-The Natural Gold-Eight Men Out.

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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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