PUT IT ALL ON THE LINE

Del Olaleye: In a win-or-lose-it-all championship scenario, who do you trust more -- Ken Giles or James Harden?

Ken Giles with one out to win it all? Or James Harden with the last shot? Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Who do you trust? It a simple question with no simple answer. I’m not trying to be existential. I talk about sports for living. My capacity for higher thinking is limited to Netflix and naps. Fandom is based on belief. If your favorite team broke your belief why would you even watch? The Astros provided people reasons to believe time after time in the 2017 season. That belief was solidified with a World Series win. I think most people trust the Astros to come through. One central figure in their title run failed enough on the field to erode any trust fans may have had in him. Not just the fans by the way. His manager stopped believing in him as well. We’ll get to him later.

The Rockets have done everything in their power to wipe away the end of the 16-17 season. They set a franchise record in wins well before the season was over. The acquisitions of P.J. Tucker, Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute have brought a defensive focus that was absent in the past. They have the soon to be crowned MVP and a possible coach of year candidate. But do you trust them? Specifically, do you trust their most important piece?

The question of trust prompted me to create a high pressure hypothetical and go around the office and ask for a gut reaction and answer. Remember when I wrote one hundred words ago or so “We’ll get to him later”? Well now is later. The man who’s postseason performance eroded the trust placed in him is Ken Giles. He’s been a topic of conversation throughout the Astros hot start. He’s not the only one to create trust issues by failing in the postseason. One player who has a chance to gain some trust back is James Harden. For this scenario we’ll call him “Elimination James.” He earned that nickname with a string of bad performances in series clinching exits.

Scenario 1:

Ken Giles is facing Bryce Harper in Game 7 of the World Series in Washington. It is the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded with two outs. The Astros lead 5-4. An out and the Astros win the World Series. If Harper gets a hit, the Nationals win.

Scenario 2:

The Rockets trail the Cavs by one in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It is Rockets ball with 15 seconds to go. Lebron James tells the world “I’ve got 13.” Elimination James vs Lebron for the NBA title. Harden makes the shot and the Rockets win the title. If he misses, the Cavs win it all.

I created these two hypotheticals and walked around the office and laid them out for my co-workers. I asked one question. Who do you trust to get their job done more?

The Responses:

Raheel Ramzanali - Not Giles

James Weddington - Giles

Michael Carrell - Elimination James

Robert Harris - Elimination James, “he’s a true closer.”

Tyler Frisby - Not Giles

Tyler Scott - Not Giles

Beautiful Andrew - Not Giles

Lance Zierlein - Giles

Jong Lee - Not Giles

Joel Blank - Elimination James

Barry Lamanick - Elimination James

Nick Sharara - Not Giles

Ron Culver - Not Giles

The Sean Salisbury Show? It was Unanimous - Not Giles

Lance and James used probability and math to pick Giles. The math is in Giles’ favorite to get the job done in their opinion. Only Barry, Joel and producer Robert Harris picked Harden to succeed. The majority of the office went with “Not Giles.” They didn’t believe in Harden, they just believed in Giles less.

So who do you trust?

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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