THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Easy street for the Texans, Rockets heading for the next round, big early baseball series

The Texans and Bill O'Brien have a tough start but the schedule is manageable. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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.

Inevitable conclusion

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.

Buzzer beaters

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

 

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UPDATE: With the Angels loss on Friday night, the Astros have secured their playoff berth. They will be part of the MLB postseason for their fourth-straight season.

After the big offensive showing to take the opener on Thursday, the Astros entered Friday's game at Globe Life Field against the Rangers just one win or Angels loss away from securing their spot in the playoffs. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (10 innings): Rangers 5, Astros 4.

Record: 29-29, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brett Martin (1-1, 1.98 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05 ERA).

Urquidy goes seven while allowing two

The Rangers would strike first in Friday's game, getting a two-out solo home run against Jose Urquidy in the bottom of the second to grab the early 1-0 lead. Urquidy did relatively well on the night, though he would allow another solo homer in the bottom of the fifth. Those were the only two runs he allowed, working in and out of some trouble throughout the game on his way to finishing seven innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 98 P.

Houston grabs their first lead late

Unlike their hot night at the plate the night prior, it took the Astros until the fifth inning to get on the board. It came after Carlos Correa hit a leadoff single, then came all the way around to score on an RBI-triple by George Springer, making it a 1-1 tie at the time.

After the Rangers went back in front 2-1 in the bottom of the inning on their second solo homer of the night, Alex Bregman would tie it up again with a solo home run of his own, making it 2-2. Houston would get their first lead of the night in the top of the eighth, with Altuve working a leadoff walk before scoring later in the inning on an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel.

Rangers get the walk-off to keep Houston waiting for playoff bid

After Urquidy, Blake Taylor would take over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, retiring the Rangers in order for a scoreless inning to hold the one-run lead. Still 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Houston turned to their closer, Ryan Pressly. After two quick outs, he would allow a game-tying solo home run, making it 3-3 to postpone Houston's celebration at least another inning as the game headed to extras.

In the top of the tenth, Jose Altuve was placed on second as the free runner. He advanced to third on a groundout to start the inning, then scored on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it a 4-3 lead for Houston. Enoli Paredes would load the bases before Texas would tie the game on a sac fly in the bottom of the inning, keeping runners on second and third. Houston made the change to Brooks Raley to try and extend the game another inning, but instead, the Rangers would get the walk-off win, spoiling Houston's chance to clinch their playoff spot themselves with a win.

Up Next: The third game of this four-game set will get underway at 6:05 PM Central on Saturday. On the mound for Texas will be Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87 ERA), and, as of now, the Astros still have Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA) listed as their starter.

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