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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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