The Pallilog

Charlie Pallilo: Astros, Yankees and Red Sox are on historic pace

Jose Altuve and the Astros are on a roll. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It should be a tremendous summer-long race among the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees to see who winds up with the best record in Major League Baseball. The Mariners are showing that while plucky, they are just not good enough to keep up with a pace looking more and more likely to produce an unprecedented three teams in the same league with 100 or more wins in the same season. Only six times have three teams between the American and National Leagues won 100+. The Dodgers, Indians, and Astros did it last year. The Astros should again cruise to the AL West title while the Yanks and Bosox slug it out trying to avoid facing one game elimination via the Wild Card game.

Before 1995 there were no Wild Cards. 1993 was the last postseason before the Wild Card (the 1994 strike forced cancellation of the playoffs). The Giants finished 103-59 and got nothing for it, finishing one game behind the Braves in the NL West. Before 1969 there were no Divisions meaning you either won the pennant and went to the World Series, or you went home. The 1942 Dodgers finished 104-50, two games behind the Cardinals.

Little big man

On May 14 Jose Altuve was one out away from seeing his batting average dip below .300. He singled in his last at bat that day to keep his average above his personal Mendoza Line (in the 70s there was a crappy hitter named Mario Mendoza whose batting averages over five straight seasons were .180, .185, .198, .218, and .198. So .200 became a reference line for awful hitting). In 33 games played since that hit Altuve is batting .403 with an OPS of 1.078. Last year Altuve won his third American League batting title and first AL MVP award with a batting average of .346. He starts the weekend at .347. Context alert: Altuve is astoundingly good, pretty much on top of his game (still down a little overall from last season), and on a clear Hall of Fame track. His OPS this season is closer to waaaaay over the hill Albert Pujols’s than it is to Mike Trout’s.

Draft stock falling?

The NBA Draft just isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. It’s still hugely important and will produce All-Stars and probably Hall of Famers. It’s just reality that with the top selections dominated by one and done college freshmen the players are much lesser known, are more boys than NBA men, and with few exceptions are ill-equipped to enter the league and be standouts early on.

Judging it from the greatest players in the class, the 1984 NBA Draft has to be considered the best ever. How about four-fifths of a starting lineup comprised of John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon. We need a small forward for that quintet so the nod goes to second round pick, the late Jerome Kersey. All of those guys played at least three years of college basketball.

Another mention-worthy draft class, especially since generously Rocket-tinted, the class of 1970. Your starting five : Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, Rudy Tomjanovich, Dave Cowens, and Bob Lanier. For a sixth man how about Calvin Murphy? Rudy-T is the only one of those six not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Rudy’s non-election remains an annual disgrace.

Top of the list

Picking first overall for the first time in their franchise history the Phoenix Suns hope they got a franchise center in DeAndre Ayton out of Arizona. His career production probably comes in somewhere between that of Olajuwon and Michael Olowokandi. Back in 1969 the Suns could have had the number 1 pick, but they lost a coin flip for it to the Milwaukee Bucks. At number two the Suns took center Neal Walk, who had a few solid seasons. But the grand prize the Suns lost out on was Lew Alcindor, soon to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Suns still have yet to win an NBA Championship. Kareem won six.

In 1983 the Rockets won the coin flip that got them Ralph Sampson. The second pick was Steve Stipanovich. The next year the Rockets won the flip again and took Olajuwon. Portland made Sam Bowie the second selection. Pick three, Michael Jordan. Trail Blazers fans who were alive back then, are sick about that to this day. Portland has blazed no championship trail since. Jordan won six.

The next year, the NBA ditched the coin flip system for the draft lottery.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Lame as Dwight Howard’s career arc has become, if Dikembe Mutombo was deemed Hall of Fame material, then isn’t Howard?  2. The World Cup means more globally than any other sporting event. But soccer simply has too many ties and 1-0 games to ever really breakout as a mainstream sport here.   3. Best “Summer” songs: Bronze-DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince “Summertime” Silver-Bananarama “Cruel Summer” Gold-Don Henley “Boys of Summer”


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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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