THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On the Texans, Altuve, the Hall of Fame and more

Charlie Pallilo: On the Texans, Altuve, the Hall of Fame and more
Jose Altuve picked up more hardware. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Mercifully, the Texans’ season finally ends Sunday. With DeAndre Hopkins sidelined by a calf injury is there any possible reason to subject oneself to watching the Texans at the Colts? 4-11 at 3-12, yippee!  After splitting up the last eight AFC South division titles four apiece, the Texans and Colts are now the division’s Dumb and Dumber. Both are banking on a healthy franchise quarterback as their salvation next season.  Both have oodles of free agent dollars to spend, the Colts have more. The Colts also have a top five draft pick in every round, while the Texans will twiddle their thumbs until round three.

One thing on the line Sunday, who gets to play the Cleveland Browns next year. If the Texans come through with a loss, they get the AFC South last place designation for scheduling by virtue of losing both games to the likewise 4-12 Colts. Sunday’s winner draws the Bengals next season. What drama!

The Texans were thoroughly humiliated Christmas Day. I don’t even mean the Steelers thrashing them 34-6, that was feeding the most feeble of flies right into a spider’s web.  I mean that If we accept the dubious position that the NRG Stadium roof closed makes for a louder building, were the Texans too obtuse to realize that keeping the roof closed Monday only enhanced the Steelers’ crowd noise advantage? So, the Texans have lost their last two games by final scores of 45-7 and 34-6. The winless Browns most lopsided loss this season is 35-10.

No small feat

The Associated Press this week named Jose Altuve its Male Athlete of the Year (swimmer Katie Ledecky took the female honor). If we accept as one definition of over the hill as being past one’s absolute peak of performance, there’s a good chance that at 27 years old Altuve is over the hill. I mean, how could his 2018 or any subsequent year equal his 2017? American League batting champion (for a 3rd time), American League Most Valuable Player Award winner, and World Series Champion. In Altuve’s case it’s not a hill anyway, it’s a mountain of accomplishments.

The AP started awarding Athlete of the Year in 1931. Lance Armstrong won four years in a row (2002-05) while cheating his way to Tour de France titles. Other winners include Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and sprinters Ben Johnson and Marion Jones. Juicers all.

Looking ahead

As this column posted, we were exactly three months from the Astros’ season opener against the Texas Rangers March 29th up in Arlington. If you are manager A.J. Hinch to whom are you handing the ball to pitch game one of 162? Dallas Keuchel has had the honor the last three openers and the Astros won all three, two of them in shutouts. Do you stick with Dallas or is Justin Verlander quite simply the ranking man on the staff and so he goes? Verlander started nine of the last 10 Detroit Tigers’ openers, only missing in 2015 when he began the season on the disabled list.  My guess is it’s Keuchel, in what may well be his last Opening Day in an Astros’ uniform.

Hall pass?

Speaking of Barry Bonds, he is again on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2018. So is Roger Clemens. Each is in his sixth of 10 maximum years on the ballot. Last year each for the first time crossed the 50 percent threshold of thumbs up votes (75 percent is necessary for election). I would vote for both. To me infamy is a subset of fame, plus both Bonds and Clemens were made men Hall of Famers before their phases of PED use, real and/or alleged, kicked in. Also back on the ballot: Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield. All amassed Hall-worthy numbers. None has any chance of election.

Five other former Astros besides Clemens are among the total of 33 players on the ballot: Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge, Aubrey Huff, and Carlos Lee. Save the spit take on the last two! All players who play in 10 different Major League seasons go on the ballot five years after retirement. Those who don’t receive at least five percent of votes are dropped from the ballot the next year.

Those joining Modern Era committee electees Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in the Class of 2018 will be named on January 24th.  The no-brainer on the ballot for the first time is Chipper Jones. Jim Thome’s case is hard to deny. The near-missers from last year who should get the call in ’18 are Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Your choices for Astros’ 2018 MVP: Altuve, Carlos Correa, Other    2. I really hope Stephen Curry is healthy when the Warriors visit the Rockets Thursday    3.  Best non-Astros sporting events of 2017:  Bronze-Super Bowl LI, Patriots from down 28-3 to 34-28 OT win over Falcons   Silver-Clemson 35 Alabama 31 National Championship game   Gold-Federer/Nadal Australian Open Final   

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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