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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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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