The Pallilog

Injuries mount for Astros, but they should be just fine with a less than daunting schedule ahead

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Despite Jose Altuve's setback, George Springer's zinged hamstring, and Carlos Correa's rib breaking massage, while the Astros' offense will suffer in the coming weeks the team should hold up fine. After this weekend's three game series at Oakland, the schedule softens dramatically with four games at the sunken Mariners then three vs. the inept Orioles. Those series are followed by a two game quickie with the Brewers, then six more games vs. losing teams: three vs. Toronto, three at Cincinnati. The Astros prevailing strength is pitching, a strength that remains mostly intact. The loss of Collin McHugh shouldn't be considered major.

Good thing the big league pitching has been generally excellent because the picture has been ugly this season for several of the Astros top pitching prospects. Corbin Martin pitched well to get a first crack at the big leagues, but after an exciting debut he has been poor in three consecutive starts. The universally heralded Forrest Whitley was blasted in five straight AAA outings, ballooning his earned run average to 12.21 (not a typo-12.21) and pushing the Astros to shut him down with no specific injury cited, just shoulder fatigue. After 24 and one third innings pitched. Last year Whitley spent two different stints on the injured list and those came after the start of his season was delayed 50 games because of a PED suspension. He doesn't turn 22 until September so has time to get things straightened out. But by the time they're 22 most super phenom pitching talents are pounding the door earning entrance to the majors. After Whitley and Martin, J.B Bukauskas is the Astros next most touted hurler. He takes a 7.27 ERA with AA Corpus Christi into the weekend. Cionel Perez is at 6.44 at Round Rock. A tier lower on the prospect totem pole, Rogelio Armenteros is at 5.73.

Dallas Keuchel figures to finally sign somewhere next week. With draft pick compensation removed he'll have multiple contenders as suitors.

Charlie Morton is 6-0 with a spiffy 2.54 ERA for the Rays.

Finally, Finals

The NBA Finals are finally underway. Your interest level on a scale of 1-10 scale? Should be high! Especially with Toronto solidly winning game one.

Golden State is playing to further burnish its all-time greatness stature. Even embittered Rockets fans must acknowledge the Warriors play one of the most entertaining styles ever, with Stephen Curry as their most important player and one of the more compelling players ever. However, while the Warriors were sizably favored to start the series, their one point underdog status for game one reflects that this no way is an inevitable re-coronation.

The Raptors are likely better than any of the LeBron James Cavaliers teams that played the Warriors the last four years. Kawhi Leonard isn't quite as great as peak LeBron, but he's in the arena. The Cavs' top win total over their four season Finals run was 57. The Raptors won 58 games this season with Kawhi sitting out 22 of the 82 regular season games. Last season the Cavs won 50 as LeBron played in all 82.

A healthy Leonard for the Raptors and if Kevin Durant is not to play, yes the trophy could very well wind up north of the border.

I wonder how many of the Rockets will watch how much of the series. The Rockets have thrust themselves into a state of flux, though it should be remembered that again this season they gave Golden State more of a challenge than any other Western Conference opponent.

An interesting Rockets' offseason is under way. Owner Tilman Fertitta "promising" championships. In some combination Fertitta and General Manager Daryl Morey have taken a hatchet to Mike D'Antoni's coaching staff. D'Antoni basically made public his desire for a contract extension and then when not greeted super receptively, broke off talks.

Reportedly the Rockets have interest in hiring Tyronn Lue as an assistant coach. That would be quite the interesting turn of events. Lue would not be a D'Antoni hire. The scenario would then clearly exist in which the Rockets and D'Antoni wind up parting ways with Lue winding up head coach.

How would that play with James Harden? Will Harden and Chris Paul get back to being basketball besties? Or is that rendered moot if the Rockets can find a taker for the anvil-heavy three seasons 124 million dollars left on Paul's contract? Will Morey have a much better offseason than he did last year (not the highest of bars to clear)?

That's the summer ahead, As the Rockets Turn.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Very slim pickings for athletes named June. The best, former linebacker Cato June. He's also quite possibly the best athlete named Cato (otherwise it's Kelvin?) 2. Another week of OTA non-news for the Texans. That means no notable injuries. 3. Best Canadian cities: Bronze-Vancouver Silver-Montreal Gold-Toronto


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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