THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Astros should benefit from soft schedule

Charlie Pallilo: Astros should benefit from soft schedule
Dallas Keuchel has not been good. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros underwhelmed as they ran their four series gauntlet against their probable four fellow American League playoff teams, but it’s not as if their 6-7 record was horrible. The Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, and Mariners draw good paychecks too. Now the clouds have parted and the Astros should win a truckload of games between now and the All-Star break. As the Astros started their four game series in Arlington vs. the Rangers they had 36 games left before the break, exactly zero of them against anybody with a winning record.

To the Mariners’ credit they took advantage of a soft schedule stretch and ripped off 16 wins in 22 games and vaulted over the Astros to lead the American League West. But the schedule worm has turned. While the Astros play nobody good for the next month-plus, the Mariners have nine games against the Angels, seven against the Red Sox, and three against the Yankees. Add in six interleague games against the Rockies and that’s 25 out of 32 games upcoming for the Mariners vs. teams now over .500. They won’t necessarily sink like a stone, but they almost certainly won’t be winning two out of every three.

So it will be a definite disappointment and a big surprise if the Astros aren’t leading the division at the break.

The Astros still have not won a game all season in which they’ve trailed by more than two runs. They still are 0 for 2018 when trailing after eight innings. Nobody wins many games when trailing after eight but the Astros have blown three games when up going to the ninth.

Bearded blunder

It’s not quite a Keuchel Konundrum (especially since the word is conundrum) but Dallas needs to pick it up a bit or his spot in the starting rotation could wind up jeopardized. Collin McHugh is an obvious alternative. In the 80s Rod Stewart had a hit with Some Guys Have All The Luck. Rod meant good luck. Keuchel is the first eight game loser in the Majors this season, but while his performance has been mediocre overall he’s had bad luck too. Over his last eight starts Keuchel for his mound opponent twice drew Yankee ace Luis Severino, twice drew Indian ace and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cory Kluber, once drew Oakland’s best and fresh off a no-hitter Sean Manaea, and most recently drew Mariner ace James Paxton. Keuchel’s ERA over those eight starts is 4.70 so he flat out hasn’t been good enough consistently enough. But check out the Astro run totals in Dallas’s defeats this season: 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 4, 3, 1. No pitcher can produce a good record with that level of support. Keuchel took a no-decision at Cleveland after throwing six innings of two-run ball. The Astros scored nothing while Keuchel was in the game, then eleven runs off of the Indians’ bullpen in the final two innings.

Hold those Tigers

The 2014 Detroit Tigers had Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello 1-2-3 in their starting rotation. They got swept in the Division Series. The Tigers then traded Porcello, saw Scherzer walk as a free agent, and then a couple of years later traded Verlander. Porcello won a Cy Young Award in 2016, Scherzer won Cy Young Awards in both 2016 and 2017. Scherzer and Verlander may both win Cy Young Awards in 2018. The Tigers winningest pitcher this season is Mike Fiers.

Pat hand

A positive of the Texans’ offseason surfaced Thursday with word that Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman faces a four game PED suspension (he’s appealing). We’re three months out from the Texans-Patriots season opener in Foxborough. Edelman missed all last season after a preseason ACL tear. Tom Brady and the Pats held up OK. Shockingly, Rob Gronkowski didn’t retire and leave more than eight and a half million dollars on the table, so the Patriots figure to continue holding up OK.

Hall of shame

So Terrell Owens finally gets elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and announces he won’t be showing up for the induction ceremony this summer in Canton Ohio. Should make for a classier ceremony.

No decision?

As the Warriors polish off the Cavaliers, Rocket fantasists will ratchet up the “LeBron to Houston!” talk. I’m a pretty big never say never guy but the only Hall of Famer-to be James on the Rockets next season will be Harden.

Buzzer beaters

1. Justify should take the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown Saturday. What a stud.  2. It’s better that in their 44th season of trying the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup than if the expansion Vegas Golden Knights had won it. The Knights’ first season is still one of the most amazing team stories ever. 3. Greatest Triple Crown winners:  Bronze-Mickey Mantle Silver-Ted Williams Gold-Secretariat.

 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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