Charlie Pallilo: Gurriel is the Astros seventh-best hitter; Rockets-Warriors race is on

Yuli Gurriel had a nice year, but he is not one of the Astros top hitters. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since before Astros spring training started I’ve seen saying that no news would be good news for them. The only meaningful news that could happen would be bad. Meaningful news hit midweek…and it was bad. Yuli Gurriel’s hand surgery sidelines him for about six weeks, which means a couple of weeks into the regular season. Bad news, but not remotely devastating news. Gurriel was going to miss the first five games anyway because of his racially insensitive gesture suspension.

And there’s this: while Gurriel had an excellent first full season in the majors last year, he was only the seventh best offensive player in the Astros’ lineup. That speaks to how absolutely fantastic the Astro attack was in 2017. Gurriel batted .299, led the club with 43 doubles, and popped 18 homers. But Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Reddick, and Alex Bregman all were better. And they’re all healthy.

Gurriel’s temporary absence means temporary opportunity for someone among Tyler White, J.D. Davis, A.J. Reed, and Tony Kemp. The MLB minimum salary this year is $545,000, so more than 3K per day. The minor league salary for players with big league experience is about $90,000. So making a big league roster is a big deal on multiple levels. The guy with no chance whatsoever of making the team is perhaps the most deserving, without doubt the player of greatest potential. 21 year old lefthanded sweet-stroking Kyle Tucker blasted three homers in his first 13 Grapefruit League at bats. Tucker is widely considered one of the top 10 prospects in the game. He’ll make about $3000 per month in the minors.

If Tucker is tearing up AA or AAA and Derek Fisher is not impressing with the big club, Tucker’s time needs to come sooner than later. But because of financial considerations the soonest sooner would arrive is mid-June. For anyone wondering whatever happened to Kyle’s older, less talented brother Preston, he’s trying to make the Atlanta Braves this spring.

Rangers taking shots in the dark

I’m not saying the Texas Rangers are desperate for pitching, except that is EXACTLY what I’m saying.

They began February by signing washed up 44-year-old Bartolo Colon, they end it by signing washed up 33-year-old Tim Lincecum.  Lincecum was an early career superstar with the Giants, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards before he turned 26 years old. After winning those he had two more good seasons. After that he was basically awful. That’s since 2011!

Lincecum couldn’t find work last year, after in 2016 getting routinely embarrassed on the mound when over nine starts with the Angels his earned run average was 9.16. You’ve probably heard the saying nothing ventured nothing gained. Well, it will be a big surprise if the Rangers venturing to sign Colon and Lincecum gains them anything at all. Their (I presume) quasi-serious attempt to add a starting pitcher was signing Doug Fister.

Funny thing (not for Rangers fans) is the offense in Arlington was as big a problem as was the pitching in 2017.

The Rangers finished 23 games back of the Astros in the American League West last year. They have done nothing this offseason to make anyone believe they are plausible contenders going into 2018.

The race is on

I don’t sense the Rockets-Warriors battle for best in the west being sufficiently appreciated by enough people around here. The Rockets are the first team since the Mike D’Antoni-coached 2006-07 Phoenix Suns to compile two winning streaks as long as 14 games. And they have needed every one of those wins to be one half game ahead of the reigning champions. All the Rockets need the rest of the way is 11 wins 10 losses to break the franchise record for wins in a season. Unless something goes very wrong very soon they are going to shatter the record and win closer to 65 games. Two seasons ago Golden State won 73 games and San Antonio won 67, the only time in NBA history that two teams in the same conference won at least 65. The Rockets need a 17-4 close to hit 65 (which would mean a 31-4 close!), the Warriors need 17-3. Not probable, but feasible for both.

When the Rockets compiled their amazing 22 game winning streak in 2008-09, it was an elite Boston Celtics squad that snapped it, routing the Rockets at Toyota Center. An elite Celtics squad visits Toyota Center Saturday night in a possible NBA Finals preview. If not Rockets-Celtics, maybe Rockets-Raptors (listen for the sobbing from ESPN/ABC executives). The Rockets play at Toronto next Friday.

Buzzer beaters

1. Shaka Smart’s UT record before Saturday’s vital game vs. West Virginia: 48-48   2. No QB in this year’s NFL draft is worth a top five pick, but desperation probably dictates at least two go that high   3. Best ice cream flavors ever: Bronze-Ben&Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough  Silver-Haagen Dazs rum raisin  Gold-Friendly’s butter crunch.


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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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