THE PALLILOG

How the Astros could get a boost when the playoffs begin

Urquidy should get the nod over McCullers. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After being basically overmatched in their season opening loss at Kansas City, the Texans try it this week against the other team vastly superior to them in the AFC last season with the Baltimore Ravens at fan-less NRG Stadium Sunday. They met last year with the Ravens humiliating the Texans 41-7 in Baltimore.

The Chiefs are a tough measuring stick, but the Texans didn't measure up in any area. Meanwhile, in their opener last Sunday the Ravens bashed the Browns 38-6 with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson completing 20 of 25 passes with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Jackson ran only seven times, last time he had fewer carries was the season opener last season. On paper there is little reason to think the Texans win. They have no position unit advantage with the possible exception of wide receiver, but given the puny outputs of Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills in Kansas City let's see them have a good game before giving them any checkmarks over opponents. The Ravens are seven point favorites.

The playoffs are in sight for the Astros

The Astros continue to slog (slog, not slug) their way to the postseason. Entering the weekend with just 10 games left in this truncated regular season they sit as a paragon of mediocrity: 25 wins and 25 losses. That has about clinched a playoff spot though since in the gimmicky short season postseason format the Astros are a virtual lock to qualify by finishing second in the American League West. They are three games ahead of Seattle. If somehow they wind up tied there is no one game playoff, and the Astros have already clinched the tiebreaker over the Mariners. The Astros play only lousy teams to close. Three this weekend vs. the Diamondbacks, then three to try to polish off the Mariners in Seattle, then four in Arlington at the Rangers.

The Astros' bullpen will be stronger in the playoffs

The Astros' lousy bullpen has been a big weakness in the 60 game schedule and would have been a bigger problem over a 162 game schedule. In the playoffs, that weakness could be greatly diminished. In the opening round best of three Zack Greinke is sure to start one of the first two games. If Justin Verlander makes it back to start the other, that leaves just one starting spot left for Dusty Baker to decide likely between Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers. That would add Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier to the Astros' pen.

Since the Astros will have no playoff games at Minute Maid Park, Urquidy (with two more decent starts) should get the nod over McCullers. It is bizarre that McCullers has been so regularly outstanding at MMP while so often inept elsewhere. In five home starts this season McCullers has a 1.42 earned run average. In four road starts his ERA is 13.50. It's not just a short season small sample size thing. For his career McCullers has 44 home starts, ERA 2.51. 45 road starts (plus three relief appearances), ERA 5.22. It's not as if MMP is a great pitchers' park.

Timing is running out for the Rockets

The Rockets turned out to be irrelevant as real NBA championship contenders go. The Lakers are excellent so there is no shame in losing to them, but the Rockets getting destroyed in the fourth quarter of two games and then not even being competitive in the closeout game made a complete mockery of General Manager Daryl Morey's "we should win this thing" claim. With one of the oldest starting lineups in the NBA the Rockets' future is perilous. Head Coach Mike D'Antoni opting to not be part of it in telling the organization goodbye without even waiting on a new contract offer. If for the third consecutive offseason the Rockets make personnel moves on the cheap, they are not to be taken seriously as a title threat in 2020-21.

The Denver Nuggets should give the Lakers a better series than did the Rockets. That in and of itself isn't saying much, but the Nuggets are younger, deeper, and more versatile than the Rockets.

Last season Kyle Lowry played stellar point guard in helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship. This season Goran Dragic is playing stellar point guard in helping the Miami Heat to within two wins of playing for the NBA championship. Once upon a time the Rockets had Lowry and Dragic on their roster at the same time. The Rockets are at 25 seasons and counting since last playing in the NBA Finals.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Maybe a postseason revival is to come, but Jose Altuve has never so regularly looked so messed up at the plate. His batting average down to .216, Altuve has been by far the worst Astro regular in 2020.

2. Other than at the Masters it looks like it will be a major surprise (and event) if Tiger Woods seriously contends to win another major.

3. Best doodles: Bronze-Yankee Silver-Snicker Gold-Golden

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TEXANS TRAINING CAMP WATCH

11 Texans training camp observations from August 7th

Houston Texans insider dishes on why Derek Stingley Jr was the right pick

The Houston Texans had a “vanilla” day of light work. Here are 11observations from the workout.

1. It was a light day for the Texans. Some would say sluggish, I wouldn’t agree with that. Did it look like a day off was in order? Yes. Did anyone make mental mistakes because of their energy level? Not that I could see. With it being a lighter day, it might be worthwhile to focus on some of the depth on the roster.

2. Isaac Yiadom (pronounced YEAH-dum) has had some moments in training camp. With rookie Derek Stingley having a light day, Yiadom played opposite Steven Nelson. Yiadom has had a few pass breakups and seems to be physical in coverage. He has a little speed to him, or he’s shown the ability to stick with wideouts. He is a top preseason game target to watch.

3. Phillip Dorset had a very nice back-of-the-end zone catch. It might have, likely even, been a sack for the defense in a live rep or team rep, but Davis Mills ripped the ball out as the whistle was starting to sound. Dorset with two feet in the back after juking a defender. He is squarely behind other wideouts having missed time but being a veteran should catch up quickly.

4. Wideout Connor Wedington had a few nice plays on Sunday. He has an uphill battle to make the roster, but Davis Mills’ former teammate might squeeze his way into the conversation. There are opportunities for him with a few other wideouts banged up.

5. Rookie tight end Tegan Quitoriano bodied his way for a touchdown. The rookie hasn’t done much in camp, but his size is clearly an advantage. Game reps and more padded practice will be important for him this preseason.

6. Chris Moore is a veteran taking yet another swing at making this team. If the Texans played tomorrow, I would have him on the roster. Probably even starting at slot wideout. He had a very nice leaping grab today.

7. Versatility for a couple of backup offensive linemen may lead to them making the team. Well, it certainly won’t hurt their case. Justin McCray has played all three interior offensive line spots. The veteran could start if needed, but I have to imagine he is a key backup inside. Scott Quessenberry (yes related to former Texans lineman David and current fullback Paul) played guard on Sunday. He is a factor to be Justin Britt’s backup at center.

8. Charlie Heck was not a pick I was in love with when Bill O’Brien selected him a couple of seasons ago. Heck has grown a lot in his game and physically and is surely the backup tackle for this team. He can play left and right tackle.

9. Tae Davis plays linebacker and wears 19. It is the strangest thing to see a linebacker in that number. It has not been strange to see Davis make a play here or there in practice. The linebacker room is loaded but Davis is making the most of his chances.

10. Ka’imi Fairbairn HAMMERED a ball right down the uprights after Davis Mills had led the team into field goal range on a last-minute drill. Mills easily moved the team down the field without the normal group of linemen or weapons. Good finish to practice.

11. Jonathan Greenard did some pushups after he couldn’t replicate history. Greenard almost had his second interception of Davis Mills, but the ball fell incomplete. Greenard has been a force in training camp.

Bonus Quote of the Day: “I was a fat guy last year” said Pharaoh Brown as he talked about his leaner and quicker frame compared to last year.

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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