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

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a tightly contested ALCS Game 2, the Astros were able to come out on top with a 3-2 win to even the series. Justin Verlander threw a great game while Carlos Correa came through with the walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

In ALCS Game 1, it was all Yankees as they overpowered Houston at the plate and on the mound en route to a shutout victory to steal a road game to start the seven-game series. Houston turned their attention to Game 2 with a fully-rested Justin Verlander on the mound to try and even the series. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (11 innings): Astros 3, Yankees 2.

Series: tied 1-1.

Winning Pitcher: Josh James.

Losing Pitcher: J.A. Happ.

Astros force Paxton out early after taking early lead

Houston's offense started on the right foot on Sunday in ALCS Game 2. After stranding a runner in the bottom of the first, the Astros scored first in the bottom of the second after Alex Bregman lasered a leadoff single, moved to second on a walk to Yordan Alvarez, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Yuli Gurriel, then scored on an RBI-double by Carlos Correa.

The run was a significant momentum boost for Houston, who had been shutout in the Game 1 loss. Although James Paxton would get through that inning with only one run allowed, he would allow back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the third, which prompted the Yankees to go to their bullpen early. The moved worked, as Houston would strand both runners to send the game to the fourth.

Verlander does his part

After three perfect innings for Justin Verlander, he would watch his 1-0 lead go away in the top of the fourth. New York's first baserunner of the night came on a leadoff walk allowed by Verlander to start the inning, which turned into a two-run home run blasted by Aaron Judge to center field to put the Yankees up 2-1 to erase Houston's lead.

Those would be the only runs allowed by Verlander, who would do an impressive job of holding the Yankees down over his start. The home run would be one of the few blemishes on a night he was able to induce outs and strikeouts to keep his team in it. He would continue into the seventh inning with a pitch count over 100, but after a two-out walk would be removed to end his night. His final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR.

Correa wins it in extras

After going down 2-1 earlier in the game, Verlander would leave in a 2-2 tie thanks to a solo home run by George Springer in the bottom of the fifth. Will Harris was first out of Houston's bullpen to finish off the seventh, getting a strikeout for the third out. Harris stayed on the mound to start the eighth, getting an out before issuing a walk to prompt AJ Hinch to bring in his closer, Roberto Osuna.

He would get two quick outs to finish the top of the eighth, but New York's bullpen would also hold in the bottom of the inning to send the gridlocked game to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Osuna would remain in the game and record a quick 1-2-3 frame to give Houston a chance to walk it off in the bottom half. In the bottom of the ninth, a pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz would work a two-out walk against Aroldis Chapman, giving the Astros a baserunner, but he would be left on base after a strikeout of Springer to end the inning and force extras. Joe Smith was next out of Houston's bullpen to start the top of the tenth and was able to retire the Yankees in order on seven pitches.

In the bottom of the tenth, New York turned to CC Sabathia for a rare relief appearance to face left-handed Michael Brantley, who would ground out for the first out. Jonathan Loaisiga was next out for the Yankees to try and finish the tenth. Instead, he would issue back-to-back one-out walks, resulting in another move to bring in J.A. Happ. Happ would get out of the jam with a strikeout and flyout to move the game to the eleventh.

Smith would get two quick outs in the top of the eleventh before a walk would end his night in favor of Ryan Pressly, who would allow a single, resulting in another change to Josh James, who would get the third out after a lengthy at-bat. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Correa evened the series with a solo home run to win the game.

Up Next: With the first two games in Houston accounted for, the ALCS will now shift to the Bronx. In Game 3 at 3:08 PM on Tuesday from New York, the pitching matchup will be the electric Gerrit Cole for Houston, who is 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 25 strikeouts after his two ALDS starts going up against Luis Severino who went four shutout innings in his ALDS start.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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