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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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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