DON'T PANIC

Lance Zierlein: The Astros aren't hitting. So what?

Alex Bregman will eventually start hitting. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When you do a sports talk show, sometimes you watch sports differently than the average fan. You have to. Oh, wait... I'm not saying we are better than other fans or that we have some elevated sense of understanding of the sport that your average fan can't possibly have. No, that's not what I'm saying at all.

What I'm saying is that when writers and talkers watch sports, we are often trying to put pieces together to fit them into a narrative that we can talk about in print or on the air. Sometimes these topics are timely, thought-provoking, and even illuminating. At other times, we may be grasping at straws or extrapolating when the sample size doesn't call for it.

And let's be clear. I'm not talking about coming up with click-bait topics or intentional hot takes to garner attention and agitation from the reader/listener. There are plenty of people who do that, but I don't see that at this radio station (ESPN 97.5). This morning John Granato and I got into a debate that will eventually end in either a foreshadowing or a non-issue category.

Worried about the bats?

John Granato is worried about the bats and after the last six games, maybe he should be. The Astros have scored 12 runs over their last six and have been wildly unimpressive at the plate with a complete inability to break out or even string hits together. Me? I’m much less worried because history is on my side.

At the top of the lineup, George Springer is hitting .186 and Alex Bregman is hitting .186. If you don’t set the table, it’s hard to eat. It’s easy to get worked up by a bad six game run on the offensive side - especially on the heels of the World Series run where the offense carried the team. But why worry when this is always what happens with Springer and Bregman? Here are their career splits in March/April:

NAME

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

George Springer

.223

.300

.392

.692

Alex Bregman

.228

.340

.283

.623

These guys never get off to a great start, check that, an average start at the beginning of the season. The 2018 version of who they are at the plate in in April is who they usually are to start the seasons. The good news is that things change for these guys in May:

NAME

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

George Springer

.285

.391

.546

.937

Alex Bregman

.276

.308

.531

.838

Now, if Springer and Bregman keep slumping through May, then I’ll write a different column. However, they are in the early stages of their prime. They aren’t likely to have bad seasons. Bad months? Yes, that’s actually the norm in baseball, but a bad season is unlikely. And guess what? They are playing .750 baseball despite a lack of consistent hitting in half of those 12 games.

Every MLB team has concerns no matter how great they may be or appear to be. For the Astros, I don’t see it as the hitting. They are just going through an early season lull. Instead, I am concerned about Dallas Keuchel and his inability to get back to his pre-All star form last season. I’m worried about Ken Giles and whether or not Brad Peacock can be the full-time closer. There are things on my mind and the hitting health of Springer and Bregman is not one of them.

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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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