THE PALLILOG

Let's discuss who will be the Astros' best offensive player this season

The Astros hammered the A's on Opening Day. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Even if the biggest Astros' homer ever, I presume you don't have them going 162-0 this season. But if you do, one down 161 to go! For the record put me down for 91 wins to edge out the A's for a reclaiming of the American League West title.

Who will be the Astros' best offensive player this season? Alex Bregman seems the most logical guess. He has two monster seasons to his name and is just 27 years old. Carlos Correa turns 27 in September. He's had zero monster full seasons, but has the talent for one and with free agency looming Correa could not be more incentivized for a huge 2021. Jose Altuve turns 31 next month. His best seasons are quite likely behind him, but you know Altuve wants to reestablish his excellence after an awful short-season 2020. What numbers could a (cross your fingers) healthy Yordan Alvarez amass over a first full season? Michael Brantley is consistently outstanding, but only in 2014 did he have a season that would be in the hunt for Astros' offensive MVP this season.

Francisco Lindor signing a 10 year 341 million dollar extension with the Mets doesn't help the Astros' hope of keeping Correa beyond 2021. Correa's best baseball has been better than Lindor's best, but Lindor has been much more durable and consistent. Other than that new Mets' owner Steve Cohen is worth 14 billion dollars give or take, the Lindor contract is crazy. Teams shouldn't be forced to match other teams' daffiness, but Correa no doubt is using the Lindor deal as a benchmark for his own.

Final Four

What a day Saturday with the Houston Cougars playing the Baylor Bears at the Final Four for a spot in Monday night's National Championship game. Kelvin Sampson has done a much heralded beyond stupendous job with the Cougar program. What Scott Drew has built at Baylor is no less impressive, in some ways even more so. The Bears are the rightful favorites (by five points). Baylor was tested by much stiffer competition over the course of the season, and after its first round wipeout of Hartford Baylor has beaten a stouter slate of opponents to get to the Final Four.

Baylor is definitely the better shooting team, as a squad over 40 percent behind the three point line. The Cougars definitely will have to score better than they did in getting through Rutgers, Syracuse, and Oregon State. It's certainly possible that Marcus Sasser and Quentin Grimes fill it up from deep. Consistently getting shots is a must. Baylor's defense is much better than what UH has seen to date. The Bears took control of their wins over Villanova and Arkansas with runs sparked by multiple forced turnovers. For all of Baylor's strengths it's not a great rebounding team. The Coogs have pummeled opponents with their offensive rebounding.

Geez, does UH even stand a chance? Of course it does. In a best of seven series the Bears would be a clear choice over the Cougars. In a best of one you never know.

By the same token yes 11th seed UCLA has a chance vs. Gonzaga. The 30-0 Bulldogs look unbeatable. They are not unbeatable. Even if they finish the job with two more wins to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976, there's a distinction between unbeaten and unbeatable. In 1991 defending champ UNLV was unbeaten and appeared unbeatable. Duke took down the Runnin' Rebels in the semifinals. In 2015 Kentucky was 38-0 before losing its semifinal game with Wisconsin. The 14 point underdog Bruins are unlikely to shock Gonzaga, but that's why it happening would be a shocker! And shockers happen. Just as UH almost certainly would not have a 28-3 record had it played in the Big 10 or Big 12 this season, Gonzaga would almost certainly not own a perfect resume if it played in a deep power conference instead of the West Coast Conference.

Rocket science

The Rockets' ugly slog toward the lottery has had a productive week. They've lost twice while Orlando has won twice, so the Rockets are now three and half games worse than the Magic which has the fourth worst record in the NBA. Reminder the Rockets need to finish in the bottom three of league standings to have their best shot at the top four draft pick necessary to avoid losing the pick.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. So Roy Williams retired at North Carolina. Kelvin Sampson attended the University of North Carolina…

2. Calm down Cougar fans. UNC-Pembroke for Sampson, not Chapel Hill. Never say never I guess, but he's not leaving UH off a Final Four appearance.

3. Good Friday movies: Bronze-Freaky Friday Silver-Friday Gold-Friday Night Lights

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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