4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

Dusty, Bill, Andy and Kobe

Dusty, Bill, Andy and Kobe
Kobe Bryant transcended sports.

It's been a weird week for everyone, I think. Let's just hop into it.

Dusty Baker, eh?

Wednesday afternoon it became official that Dusty Baker would be the Astros next manager.

That was actually the first name I suggested on that darkest of Mondays. He's handled big names and big expectations before, and aside from Joe Espada or Bruce Bochy being coaxed out of retirement, he seemed like the best fit.

Some wanted an authoritarian, no nonsense manager like a Buck Showalter. It just never seemed to make sense in my mind how that kind of personality would jell with the players. This Astros team is still very very good, and bringing in anything other than a player's coach would poison the water.

It will be interesting to see how willing a 70 year old Baker is to adopt that Astros noted affinity towards analytics, but I don't think he would've been offered the job otherwise.

Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days, FYI.

Texans balk at fans, make Bill O'Brien supreme ruler

Seriously. Well, they promoted him to general manager at least. It's so hard to watch the McNairs double down on this guy. Whatever. Go Roughnecks.

Super bowl stuff

I'm actually legitimately excited for this Super Bowl. The teams are both stacked and they both steamrolled their way in. The Chiefs have an unreal offense, while the 49ers have a staggering defense. You've got the young upstart coach looking to legitimize his place in the ring against one of the game's legends seeking the one accolade that has eluded him thus far. Patrick Mahomes is goofy, Jimmy Garappolo is gorgeous. There are reasons to root for both sides if you don't necessarily care one way or the other about either team, and that just adds to it.

Personally, I'm rooting for Andy Reid. If Andy Reid were my neighbor, he seems like the type of guy that would bring mis-delivered mail over, put a fallen bicycle back up on its kickstand, and also water your yard on the way out. Here's hoping Mahomes takes some Dramamine before the big game and helps the big guy cement his place in Canton. If you have something bad to say about Andy Reid, take it somewhere else. This is a pro-Andy column.

And yeah, Kobe

I really wanted to write something poignant about the whole Kobe Bryant thing. I tried about three different angles, but none of it rang true. It sounded hollow. So I'm just going to shoot from the hip and see what falls.

I wasn't always a fan of Kobe. Hell, I'd say I've spent most of my life booing him to be honest. People change though, especially once the sport part is over.

I grew up watching Kobe play. I watched him grow old. I watched him fail. I watched him succeed. I watched him succeed a lot. Kobe Bryant, as far as I've known my entire life, has always been intertwined within the fabric of the NBA.

I've never known basketball that doesn't include Kobe Bryant.

It's just the suddenness I suppose. The only other time I've felt this sort of grief toward celebrity was the day that Robin Williams died. It was sudden, too. It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

It's not grief over a ball player either. Kobe Bryant, through all of his faults, didn't just become a legend. He became a philosophy. He was a brutal pursuit, personified. You don't teach legends. You teach philosophies.

In college we had a copy of NBA 2K9. I once played a guy with the Lakers and told him I could beat him scoring only with Kobe, and he could pick whatever team he wanted. He picked the Jordan All-Star team and scored 100 points.

I beat him by 20. Kobe beat him by 20.

I'll end with this fun stat. Kobe Bryant played the Rockets 61 times in his career. Out of 61 contests, do you know how many times the Mamba was held to single digits scoring?

FOUR.

I'm still processing this whole thing. Everyone take care.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

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 YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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