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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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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