THE PALLILOG

Dream vs. Duncan and baseball in the balance

Dream vs. Duncan and baseball in the balance
Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Jack Brame.

We're into month number three of a mostly sports-less world. Breaking news: it's not fun.

To fill some space this week ESPN.com released its ranking of the 74 greatest players in NBA history. The currently suspended season is the NBA's 74th. Unless you simply don't like the NBA, it's a fun list to discuss and debate. The ground rules for such rankings are never clear. Whose career would you rather have had: A. 10 times first team All-NBA, eight times first team All-Defensive team, two MVP Awards, or B. Five times first team All-NBA, five times first team All-Defense, one MVP Award? Easy call right? Hence, it's a Houston homer-ism issue to rail at Tim Duncan coming in ahead of Hakeem Olajuwon. Duncan placed eighth, Olajuwon twelfth. At his best Dream was greater than Duncan at his best, but for accomplishment and the longer span of greatness Duncan is the ranking guy. At their best Halle Berry or Salma Hayek? You can't go wrong. Ditto Timmy and Dream. Shaquille O'Neal split the difference between them in landing at number 10.

Couple of other notes and thoughts on the ESPN rankings. James Harden was slotted at number 32, Russell Westbrook at 42, Tracy McGrady at 52, Clyde Drexler at 57. All four of those guys are/were greater than Allen Iverson who is too high at 29. Iverson was tough as nails, played with ferocity, and it is spectacularly impressive that at six feet 165 pounds he led the NBA in minutes played per game seven times. Iverson averaged more than 25 points per game for 10 consecutive seasons. By my tally only six other guys in NBA history have done that. Shaq also 10 seasons in a row. Jerry West, Karl Malone, Kevin Durant, and Michael Jordan did 11 (asterisk on MJ, one of his 11 was his comeback season in which he played only 17 games). Counting the currently suspended season LeBron James is at 16 (16!). Awesome company for AI, but he was also a low percentage shooting inveterate gunner who was sometimes referred to as "Me, Myself, and Iverson" with some justification.


MLB

As the only non-salary cap league of our major professional sports, Major League Baseball needs its owners and players to negotiate stickier financial terms if there is to be roughly a half regular season plus postseason. On the macro level shame on the billionaires and millionaires if they can't arrive at a compromise. On the micro level there are legitimate bones of contention, though the 36 million Americans who have lost jobs over the past two months (and plenty still with jobs) have zero sympathy for the owners or players. Early on in the shutdown, the players agreed to take 170 million dollars which was theirs to keep if no season wound up being played at all. Beyond that the players agreed to basically a pro rata season salary tied to what percentage of the season was played. The players' position is that's the deal. The owners now say, hey, that was before we knew no fans at games would be real, and as a result all ballpark game day revenue would be lost. The owners say park-related revenue accounts for about 40 percent of the overall take.

The players' union leadership says the owners' offer of a 50-50 revenue split for 2020 and 2020 only is still a non-starter. When owner profits are through the roof the players don't get additional cuts. So why should the players give back additional money in time of losses? Answer: because in a "bad deal" the players would still divide a couple of billion dollars (give or take). With no season the players get nothing beyond the 170 million already received.

GET A DAMN DEAL DONE!


Respect for former Astros

Sad news with the passing of Bob Watson at 74 years old. On the field he's perhaps the most underrated player in Astros' history. Off the field, a class act and the first black General Manager of a World Series Champion (1996 Yankees). As one frame of reference for the "Bull" as a player, he had a seven-year stretch with the Astros that was clearly better than Michael Brantley was last season. Brantley was outstanding last season. Watson's power numbers were dragged down by home games in the Astrodome.

Meanwhile, send good thoughts the way of former Astros' player and manager Art Howe. He's 73 years old and hospitalized fighting coronavirus. Howe was the first Astros' manager I covered way back when. What an absolute gentleman. His 23 game hitting streak in 1981 stood for 19 years as the Astros' franchise record. Three Astros since have topped 23. Name them? Answer below.


NASCAR is back

NASCAR returns this weekend. Outstanding for NASCAR fans, but the idea that we're all so starved for live competition that millions will suddenly become auto racing enthusiasts and hence NASCAR audiences will skyrocket? Come on. Similarly, the PGA returning next month is great for golf fans, but isn't going to create scads of new golf fans. The day-to-day heartbeat of sports is local teams that generate common passion and breadth of interest.


Buzzer Beaters:1. Worst joke I heard this week (by far): what is Forrest Gump's login password? 1-Forrest-1. 2. My series catch up viewing this week has been HBO's Succession. Not family night viewing, but really good. 3. Astros' longest hitting streaks: Bronze-Tony Eusebio 24 Silver-Jeff Kent 25 Gold-Willy Taveras 30

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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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