THE PALLILOG

How MLB's 60 game sprint and expanded playoffs could impact the Astros

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

October 30th of last year is when the Astros lost game seven of the World Series. 268 days later they finally play their next game that counts as they begin a 60 game sprint of a Major League Baseball season Friday night against the should stink again Seattle Mariners.

We know the COVID-19 delayed start has cost the Astros their shot at becoming the first team ever to in at least 100 games in four consecutive seasons. With a full schedule they were unlikely to pull it off, given the loss of Gerrit Cole entirely and Justin Verlander for what would have been at least the first two months of the season. But they had earned a shot at it. Starting with more than 140,000 American lives, many much more important things have been lost than the Astros trying for 100+ wins again, but it is a simple truth.

The Astros will have Verlander on the mound for the opener, and as many as a dozen more regular season starts after it. En route to winning his second American League Cy Young Award last season Verlander won 21 of his 34 starts. On a pro rata basis, eight wins in 13 starts equals 21 in 34.

The Astros won't have 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez for who knows how long. Presumably but not officially COVID related, Alvarez's absence punches a hole in the Astro lineup, though their one through six in whatever order of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel projects as still plenty stout. Losing guys is just going to happen. The Yankees opened their season without D.J. LeMahieu in their starting lineup or closer Aroldis Chapman in their bullpen because of COVID. Not five hours before their opener against the Yanks Thursday night the reigning World Series Champion Washington Nationals announced 21 year old superstar Juan Soto had tested positive. "War of attrition" may be heard too often this season.

MLB to expand postseason field in 2020

Chasing dollars to compensate a little for the loss of nearly two thirds of a season's worth of revenue, it's understandable but still gimmicky of MLB and the players to expand to a 16 team playoff format. The top two finishers in each of the six divisions get in, with wild cards awarded to the next two best records in each league. The first round series will be best two out of three, all at the home of the higher seed. The structure of baseball makes a mediocre or even lousy team beating a superior opponent in a best of three or best of five more likely than the same happening in the NBA. The Astros were awesome last year, but lost two three game series to the Rangers who finished 78-84. In a 16 team format in 2019, the Astros would have opened the postseason in a best of three vs. the Rangers.

60 games can be fun and exciting but it is not a legitimate MLB season. If anyone happens to hit .400, there is no way he should be judged "The first .400 hitter since Ted Williams!" During his MVP 2017 season Jose Altuve had a 60 game stretch over which he hit .420. Altuve finished that season at .346. In 2004 when Ichiro Suzuki set the big league record with 262 hits, he raked at a .441 clip over a 60 game stretch, finishing the season at .372.

Big deal for Mookie Betts

Foremost congratulations to Mookie Betts for inking a 12 year 365 million dollar extension with the Dodgers. George Springer won't command anything close to that when he hits the free agent market this fall, but Betts's haul sure isn't bad news for George. Betts turns 40 in October 2032, the final season of the deal. Bryce Harper turns 39 the final year of his whopper pact with the Phillies. Springer turns 31 in September. Long term contracts paying players megabucks in their late 30s are generally bad business. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are cinch Hall of Famers, but contractual anvils in their later years. Teams can look at those over the hill to washed up paydays as sunk costs as well as hoping revenues go up, up, up so that today's dollar is worth maybe 50 cents a decade from now. If Springer draws a five year 100 million dollar offer elsewhere but gives the Astros the chance to match, would they? What about 125?

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Caught the NFL Films 2019 Texans team video this week. Title: "Pursuit of Greatness. The Story of the 2019 AFC South Champion Houston Texans." Um, ok. Could have at least called it Unfulfilled Pursuit.

2. That's still not as lame as 54 year old Mike Tyson and 51 year old Roy Jones Jr. apparently agreeing to an eight round exhibition fight September 12.

3. Things I'll now do less with baseball back: Bronze-cook elaborate seven-course meals Silver-watch grass (or artificial turf) grow Gold-spontaneously sob uncontrollably

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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