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 media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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