The Pallilog

Jeff Luhnow and the Astros have some work to do

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Viewed as a snapshot of the last couple of weeks the Astros are horrible. Widen the view to the season to date and they're still the fourth best team in Major League Baseball and on pace to win 98 games. But they are staggering. It's now nine losses in the last 11 games. In four of them the pitching staff has given up at least 10 runs. The Pirates beating the snot out of the Astros 14-2 and 10-0 within 24 hours means the Astros start the weekend with their American League West lead over the surprising Texas Rangers down to four and a half games. That's the Astros' slimmest margin since they went to sleep the night of May 9.

The Astros can make no moves and quite likely win the division, but in pursuit of some homefield advantage in the postseason and then putting out the best team they can in the playoffs, it's increasingly clear that General Manager Jeff Luhnow is asleep at the wheel if he's not exploring trading for a starting pitcher. I would bet a good chunk of money that Luhnow is not asleep at the wheel. None of the Astros pitching prospects have given good reason to think a good answer for 2019 lies within.

Star struck

That George Springer is a deserving All Star Game starter despite missing a month tells you the kind of season he's having, and the kind of season American League outfielders as a group are not having. Michael Brantley is worthy too. Mike Trout, duh.

Alex Bregman gets voted in to start for the first time. He's having a season that overall is right in line with last year's monster breakout campaign. But I bet Bregman is ticked that his batting average is only .264. He's popping the ball up a lot this season, and also popping the ball out of the park with much greater frequency (the juiced balls help, but everyone else gets to swing at them too). Bregman is on pace for 43 home runs. As Astros only Jeff Bagwell (47). Lance Berkman (45) and Richard Hidalgo (44) have topped 43 in a season.

Making moves

The NBA free agency frenzy gets underway at 5:00 Central Time Sunday afternoon. The Rockets can only be bit players in the direct free agent market, but as usual General Manager Daryl Morey is thinking bigger. It is amusing that while Morey is saying the Rockets should be talked about as the favorites in the Western Conference, he's trying to break apart the team. With designs on making it better, but still trying to break it up. There was no trade market for Chris Paul, so relief from the 3 years 124 million dollars left on Paul's deal was not happening. Besides, while Paul's contract is absurd he is still a legit starting point guard. Who would the Rockets have replaced him with anyway?

So, the foremost object of Daryl's desires is Tomball native and current 76er Jimmy Butler. If Butler says he wants to be a Rocket for four seasons and approximately 140 million dollars (the Sixers can offer up to five years about 190 mil), the Sixers probably would be open to signing and trading him. To make it work under the salary cap the Rockets would have to unload Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. Or: Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and salary cap filler like Nene and Gary Clark.

Gordon would make sense for the Sixers (so would Tucker). Capela would be a 16 million dollar backup to the vastly superior Joel Embiid. Meaning Capela would have to rerouted elsewhere.

Would either trade make the Rockets better? No, at least not initially. Butler can be a pouter if he doesn't see the ball as much as he wants. How would standing around while James Harden dominates work out? Paul has the same issue. Or would Harden accept a downsizing of his role which made him MVP and MVP runner-up the past two seasons? Let's presume they could get past that. The Rockets other two starters would be…? Without Capela, who protects the rim and rebounds? Hope they're not thinking fallen over the hill DeAndre Jordan. JaVale McGee? And what about the bench, which stunk most of last season.

There are role players such as Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Al-Farouq Aminu to be had in free agency, but the Rockets can be outbid for many of them, and it's not as if all free agents dream of playing for the Rockets. Morey's offseason signings last summer stunk. It's critical that he's much better this year.

Buzzer Beaters

:1. Left knee discomfort for Yordan Alvarez. Oy. Hope it's nothing more. 2. If Kawhi Leonard picks the Clippers it's not insane to count seven Western Conference teams that could wind up better than the Rockets. 3. Best Beatles' Songs: Bronze-Yesterday Silver-Hey Jude Gold-Let It Be

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Houston gets another victory in Anaheim

Astros overpower Angels again as magic number dwindles

Kyle Tucker had 3 of Houston's RBI on Tuesday night, including a two-run homer. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

After a beatdown of the Angels on Monday in the opener, the Astros entered Tuesday's game looking to replicate that success. Though Los Angeles would put up more of a fight, Houston still used their potent offense to keep the game out of reach.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 90-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (8-3)

Losing Pitcher: Packy Naughton (0-3)

Houston's bats keep connecting to back up Urquidy

The Astros picked up on Tuesday's game where they left off on Monday, launching homers to take and extend a lead. A leadoff walk by Carlos Correa in the top of the second set up Kyle Tucker, who drove a two-run shot. Aledmys Diaz was next, making it back-to-back jacks to push the new lead to 3-0.

That gave Jose Urquidy a lead to work with, which came in handy as former Astro Jack Mayfield cut the lead to two runs with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the second. Other than that, Urquidy did well through five innings, allowing just two other hits over that span. LA got to him in the sixth, getting two singles to set up a three-run homer to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 79 P.

The runs keep coming

He would still leave in line for the win, though, as before that bottom of the sixth, the Astros had put up seven more runs across the fifth and sixth. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth was followed by a two-run homer by Jose Altuve, then later in the frame, an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz made it 7-1. They pushed that to double digits in the sixth, with a leadoff solo shot by Martin Maldonado, a sac fly by Carlos Correa, and an RBI groundout by Kyle Tucker, putting them up 10-1 before the homer allowed by Urquidy cut that to 10-4.

Astros win to reduce magic number again

In the sixth, Cristian Javier took over for Urquidy, finished that inning, and returned for a scoreless seventh. He ran into Shohei Ohtani to lead off the bottom of the eighth and left a fastball in the zone, which Ohtani turned around 445 feet to make it a five-run game. Javier still got through the inning, leaving just the ninth for Houston's second reliever of the night, Josh James. James would get through a scoreless inning, erasing a leadoff walk as the lopsided win paired with an A's loss reduces Houston's magic number to 4.

Up Next: The third of this four-game series will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Wednesday. Janson Junk (0-1, 2.25 ERA) will make his third career start for the Angels, while Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.37 ERA) will have the ball for the Astros.

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