THE PALLILOG

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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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