THE PALLILOG

Here's how the Astros could set their ALCS rotation

Framber Valdez should start Game 1. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

TBS obviously will be rooting like mad for the Yankees as they play the Rays in Friday night's decisive game five for a crack at the Astros in the American League Championship Series which starts Sunday night in San Diego. No one should blame TBS for that. The Yankees draw a much bigger audience. TV channels exist to draw audiences for the purpose of advertising sales. Besides, many Astros are probably rooting for a shot to deny the Yanks a trip to the World Series for the third time in four years.

If it's the Yankees, their lineup is clearly better than Astros' pitching. The bullpen is shaky, but only Framber Valdez delivered a quality start in the four games vs. the A's. A huge factor in the Astros favor vs. the Yankees is that Gerrit Cole pitches Friday night. With the ALCS best of seven to be played with zero off days, the earliest Cole could face the Astros would be game three pitching on three days rest for a second consecutive start. The other Cole option would be game four on normal rest, which would then be his only start of the series even if it goes seven.

If the Rays advance, the Astros will try to complete a run back to the Fall Classic by eliminating each of the AL's three division winners. The Rays have three legit starters in Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton. The Astros last faced each of them while edging the Rays in their 2019 Division Series which went the maximum five games. The Rays bullpen is deep with Manager Kevin Cash a master at mixing and matching. Among their 40 regular season wins, amazingly the Rays had 12 different guys notch at least one save. Then a 13th different guy got their first save of the postseason. Given their track record playing in St. Petersburg the Astros would catch a huge break with the neutral site venue that is Petco Park.

ALCS rotation

As for the Astros' pitching picture, unless wanting to slot the lefty between two righties, Framber Valdez seems the clear Astro choice to start game one. If it's not Framber it's Lance McCullers. You never know in one game but McCullers has been pitching roadkilled too often to be the pick on merit. If it is Framber then McCullers and Jose Urquidy would both have ample rest for games two and three. Zack Greinke could then go in game four, with any games beyond that up in the air. Cristian Javier has thrown six and one third scoreless innings of relief this postseason so clearly Dusty Baker will want to keep him in the pen.

From Labor Day through their two game sweep of the Twins (a 22 game stretch), not once did the Astros score five runs or more in back-to-back games. Hibernation is over. Blasting the A's for 10, 5, 7, and 11 runs was a resounding wakeup whether ahead of a slugfest with the Yankees or Tampa Bay's better than Oakland's pitching staff.

O'Brien-less Texans face Jaguars on Sunday

The Texans are still winless heading into Sunday's non-epic matchup with the Jaguars, but for many, many Texans' fans it feels like the season's first victory is in the vault with the firing of Bill O'Brien. Consider this. Emperor "O" leaves as the most successful head coach in franchise history. Sad but true.

The only other candidate is Gary Kubiak. I think Kubiak was the better coach, but O'Brien coached more winning seasons (five to Kubiak's three) and delivered more cute little AFC South Champion banners (four to two) in fewer seasons on the job (six-plus to seven-plus). Results are results. Those who would say "well the AFC South mostly sucked while O'Brien was here!" need to remember that the Titans have finished 9-7 four straight seasons and played in the AFC Championship game last season. The Jaguars got there in the 2017 season, the Colts in the 2014 season. One of Kubiak's division titles came when Peyton Manning missed the whole season and the Colts' most used starting quarterback was Curtis Painter.

The fairest assessment of O'Brien is that he was a mediocre coach. In contrast, his brief reign of error as head of football operations was a "Billy Blunder" catastrophic debacle that has damaged the Texans in the present and poses some major problems for their future. O'Brien was not accomplished enough or with any background suggesting he warranted personnel control. The foolishness of granting him essentially unchecked powers until his dismissal? That's on Cal McNair.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. NFL arrogance. Building in zero additional weeks for COVID-necessitated scheduling flexibility was not very smart.

2. Speaking of arrogance, one of Bill O'Brien's biggest talking turd moments was when he lectured Texans' fans that they should be "proud of their quarterbacks." He said that before their first preseason game. The QBs: Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.

3. Things more interesting than Texas-Oklahoma Saturday: Bronze-Texas A&M vs. Florida Silver: Can D'Eriq King and Miami give Clemson a game? Gold-watching a three hour loop of that fly on Mike Pence's head

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The Texans are moving in the wrong direction. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

1. This team started incredibly slow and outside of a couple of drives in the second half disappointed. The defense got worked by the Chargers' star players, and the offense sputtered too often. It was really a summary of the season up to this point which is to say inconsistency.

2. Davis Mills was shaky early. The first drive interception was tough to stomach. The pocket got messy as he tried to drive the ball and he floated one up there. It gave the Chargers an easy drive for seven points.

3. One of the early offensive mistakes erased a scoring opportunity. Kenyon Green got nailed for a holding call that erased one of the best passes and catches between Brandin Cooks and Davis Mills all season. The rookie’s mistake was compounded the very next play when the offense allowed Mills to be sacked. It was a 40-yard swing that led to a punt.

4. Another third down penalty led to a mishap for the Texans. Laremy Tunsil gets a false start on third down to make it third and 10. The shovel pass to Rex Burkhead goes for six yards and then the Texans botch the field goal. Back-to-back drives and third-down penalties affected the offense and ended with no points. That was all just in the first quarter!

5. The Texans were abysmal with short yardage in key spots yet again. In the second quarter, Pep Hamilton opted for a pass on fourth and one. Davis Mills never got the play off and was sacked. After the game, Mills said the team wanted to catch the Chargers off guard running when most expected a pass, but Rex Burkhead was the running back. It was again a situation, a key and critical moment, that the team trusted Burkhead over the more dynamic Dameon Pierce.

6. The Chargers were very chunky on offense against the Texans. There were 16 plays that went for at least ten yards for the Chargers of their 67 plays. Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler were fantastic for Los Angeles.

7. The pass rush was non-existent for the Texans. This was one of the more disappointing aspects of the day to consider the Chargers were playing a rookie right guard, their center is injured but playing, and the left tackle was a backup left tackle. Nothing seemed to get home on an injured Justin Herbert. The Texans recorded just two quarterback hits in the game.

8. The linebackers got worked again. This is the absolute weakest unit on the team right now. They look like they’re easily exploited by most opposing offenses.

9. It was a rough day for the rookie class of the Texans. Derek Stingley was handled by Mike Williams on multiple occasions in key spots. Kenyon Green allowed a big sack and had a holding penalty erase a huge play. Jalen Pitre was the target of some offensive success in the Chargers' passing game.

10. Not all the rookies had a bad day. Dameon Pierce is so much fun to watch. He has the chance to be a truly impactful player for this team. His 75-yard touchdown scamper gave the team some juice, and he constantly fights and gets extra yards when the ball is headed his way. He finished with 14 carries and six catches for 20 total touches.

11. The Texans need teams to help them stay in games, and even then, it is a challenge. The tough part about where the Texans are through four games is there are some positives to look at and point to, but not enough to say the team is surely headed in the right direction. There surely has to be some adjustment by the team when the season is where it is after nearly a quarter of the year. The current direction isn’t going to lead anywhere positive soon.

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