THE PALLILOG

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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Jose Urquidy is a surprising choice to start Game 2. Photo by Getty Images.

After a long and tumultuous season, the Houston Astros made it to their 3rd World Series in five years and will take on the Atlanta Braves Tuesday night.

Houston had the better overall regular season record, so games 1 & 2 will be played at Minute Maid Park while games 3-5 will be held at Truist Park in Atlanta.

(If necessary, the final two contests will be played back at Minute Maid Park).

The Braves got this far by defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the ALDS 3-1 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games (4-2).

Atlanta prevailed with timely hitting from guys like Joc Pederson, Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario performing like an MVP this postseason.

The Braves received solid pitching outings from guys like Ian Anderson, Max Fried and former Astro Charlie Morton.

Atlanta used clutch hitting and solid pitching to make to their first World Series since 1999.

Meanwhile, the Astros made it back to the World Series by defeating the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS 3-1 and out-slugged the Red Sox four games to two.

According to Fox Bet, the Astros are favored at -154 to win the World Series. This is certainly an obtainable goal for Houston's team as they have the experience, hitting and pitching to compete with anyone.

Can Houston's bats stay hot?

The most intriguing matchup this series will be the Astros' bats facing off against this Braves pitching staff. On paper, Houston's lineup seems to be favored for their depth. Jose Altuve at the top of the batting order is always a threat to get on base, and behind him are a plethora of hitters who can drive in multiple runs.

The two best bats this postseason thus far for the Astros are ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez (.522 batting average) and this year's American League batting title champion Yuli Gurriel (.455 batting average). The Cuban natives have lit up pitching and will look to continue their torrid hitting in the World Series.

Other Astros who could be impactful at the plate against the Braves include Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. All three of their batting average's in the .200's respectfully and could come up big at any time.

This lineup is so deep, Atlanta's pitchers won't receive many breaks, if at all this series.

Will the pitching step up again?

Losing Lance McCullers Jr. for the World Series certainly isn't ideal, but not impossible to overcome as proven in the ALCS against the Red Sox.

Framber Valdez pitched the best game of his career when he threw 8 innings and surrendered only one run in Game 3, while Luis Garcia had his best start of the postseason and received the Game 6 win. Both of these pitchers have stepped up in McCullers' absence and will have a huge impact on the series. Valdez is set to start Game 1 on Tuesday night.

If Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke can also pitch deeper into games, there will be less stress on the bullpen and give the Astros a better chance to stay in games. And we won't have to wait long to see Urquidy, as he will start Game 2, according to Astros manager Dusty Baker.

In an ideal scenario, the Astros' starting pitchers should throw six innings of work and let Kendall Graveman, Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly closeout games as they have all season.

Of course this is the best-case scenario, which doesn't always happen, but other arms can be used to bridge the gaps that include Phil Maton, Yimi Garcia in short relief outings and Cristian Javier and Jake Odorizzi can pitch multiple innings if needed.

Even if a starter has a clunker of a start, this bullpen has done a great job of keeping things close and setting up the Astros for success.

Will this be Carlos Correa's "Last Dance" with Astros?

One can only imagine what is going on in Carlos Correa's mind right now. No one is implying that the free agent to be will not be focused this series, but it's hard to fathom this upcoming offseason isn't a distraction right now.

The 27-year-old shortstop is set to receive multiple offers from different teams and land one of the richest contracts once this season concludes.

If this truly is his final season with the Astros, why not go out on top and win one more title before moving on?

Let's hope this "Last Dance" for Correa is a slow one, so we can all enjoy it a little longer.

Will Dusty's experience prove to be a difference-maker?

Dusty Baker's experience could be beneficial for Houston's chances of hoisting another trophy as he has managed teams in parts of 24 seasons.

He's the only skipper to ever lead five franchises to the postseason and obtain more than 2,000 career victories.

This is the second time he as taken a club to the World Series. He took the 2002 San Francisco Giants to the Fall Classic but lost to the Angels in seven games.

It's safe to assume the 72-year-old seems eager to win his first championship as a manager to cap off a Hall of Fame career.

Final projection

As previously mentioned, the Astros are favored to win this series. If Houston can continue to stay hot at the plate, receive solid outings from their pitchers and just play Astros baseball, there is a good chance this city will have yet another Commissioner's Trophy in their display case.

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