Charlie Pallilo: Easy street for the Texans, Rockets heading for the next round, big early baseball series
I mean, seriously, who in the heck would sit and watch two hours of the NFL schedule release show Thursday night? Better alternatives: NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, baseball, The Big Bang Theory (still on, yes?) or most anything else. Post it online and let’s go. And so we learned that the Texans open their 2018 season at New England. Should be good to get “can they go 16-0?” talk out of the way and focus on 15-1. I mean for the Patriots. Of course the Texans can go 16-0. Wait, make that they can go 10-6. A silver lining of last season’s total collapse was getting a last place team’s schedule. The advantage of that was greater back in the days when there were four strength of schedule games on the slate as opposed to the current two, but it’s still an edge pointing to 2018. The Texans play the last place Browns and Broncos while the defending AFC South champion Jaguars draw the Steelers and Chiefs. The Texans will do well to avoid an 0-2 start with at Tennessee following at New England. After that, on paper the Texans have the easiest schedule in the NFL.
As expected, so far so good for the Rockets’ postseason. They were shaky in game one against Minnesota but won on the back of James Harden’s awesome 44 point performance. They needed all of it to win by three with all other Rockets combining to shoot a frigid 12 percent from behind the 3-point line. Any false hope the Timberwolves may have drawn by losing close was snuffed in the Rockets’ Game 2 20 point rout. If the players got bonuses for every point above 20 in their margin of victory the Rockets could have won game two by 35 or 40, and done so on a night where Harden made two of 18 shots from the floor.
Maybe the Timberwolves manage one win in Minneapolis, but the Rockets should be very well rested for their second round matchup vs. the Thunder-Jazz winner. Additionally, if Luc Mbah a Moute’s dislocated shoulder heals well they could be the healthiest they’ve been in months. Provided the Pelicans close out the Trailblazers, perhaps Anthony Davis can help New Orleans give Golden State a series if Stephen Curry isn’t back, or effective. But it sure looks like the anticipated Rockets-Warriors Western Conference Final is coming.
Big early series?
There is no such thing as a huge baseball series in April. But that doesn’t mean Astros-Angels Monday through Wednesday at Minute Maid Park can’t be hugely fun. A.J. Hinch didn’t specifically plan it this way but his starting pitchers line up as Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Justin Verlander. After four starts apiece Verlander’s 1.35 ERA made him the slacker of the three, which is absolutely nuts. Morton is at 0.72, Cole at 0.96.
Heading into the season the Angels looked to be the most improved team in the American League West, and they played the part in roaring out of the chute to a 13-3 start. Will the Halos have the staying power to hang with the Astros through the summer? I doubt it, but they will hit town with serious star power. Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet, as he routinely has been since his rookie season in 2012. Trout’s career path to date rates very well vs. Willie Mays’. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons may be the best defensive player in the game. Evaluating defensive performance has come a long way but still lags well behind evaluating offense. Nevertheless, Simmons’s advanced defensive stats suggest that he plays shortstop better than did the generally acknowledged best ever, Ozzie Smith. Albert Pujols is a shell of the player who was the best first baseman in National League history, but is within single digits of becoming the 32nd big leaguer to reach 3000 hits. If he happens to reach 3K here I hope and expect the MMP crowd to be smarter than to boo him.
And then there’s Shohei Ohtani, the 23 year old Japanese sensation pitcher/designated hitter. After he stunk in both roles at spring training some wondered whether Ohtani might be best served by starting the season in the minors. Um, no. Already this season Ohtani has homered in three consecutive games, and on the mound carried a perfect game into the seventh inning. He had a blister problem in his last start, but is expected to pitch one of the games against the Astros. Houston’s population of Japanese descent is small, so Ohtani fans won’t be taking over the ballpark.
1. By NHL standards the 1st round of the playoffs has been a dud. 2. The reigning MLS champ is in town this weekend. Any clue which team is the reigning MLS champ? 3. Best diet sodas: Bronze-Dr. Pepper Silver-Coke Zero Gold-Fresca