THE PALLILOG

Here's how the Astros could set their ALCS rotation

Astros Framber Valdez
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 Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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