THE PALLILOG

Make no mistake, the Astros are a real threat to win another pennant

One more win and they're in. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As they were at the start of the 60 game season, the Astros are a virtual lock to make the expanded postseason field. Unexpectedly, the only reason the Astros have a shot in October is because the field is expanded. Still, all they need is one win in three shots at the Rangers or one Angels loss as they play three at the Dodgers and the Astros are in and an absolute threat to win another American League pennant. This Astros squad is an average squad. The losses of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Yordan Alvarez combined with all their key hitters dropping off from 2019 make Astros' mediocrity a simple fact of life. A mediocre but potent team can beat any better team in a best of three, best of five, or best of seven series. Heck, a bad team can beat a great team two out of three. The format is such that the Astros will be the sixth seed among the eight AL playoff teams, so they will be the road team in each game of a best of three series at the number three seed. They could be headed to Oakland, Minnesota, or Chicago.

A couple of peripheral bummers of the Astros to this point disappointing 2020…

One, Justin Verlander's dream of 300 career wins pretty much died with the ulna collateral ligament in his right arm. Verlander's one win this year combined with zero next year will have him at 226 career wins when he turns 39 in February of 2022. That Verlander can then average 15 wins per season through age 43 isn't utterly impossible but is extremely unlikely. While cementing his Hall of Fame credentials, Verlander didn't average 15 wins per season from 2015 through '19.

Two, Jose Altuve's collision course with the 3000 hit club has hit a major detour. I'm not declaring Altuve washed up, though only apologists and homers would describe his short season performance as better than feeble. He's been among the worst regulars in all of Major League Baseball this season. Altuve's best baseball is behind him. If he can get back to 2018 or 2019 Altuve that's plenty good, though not close to 2016 and 2017 Altuve. Well, Altuve failed to reach 170 hits in either 2018 or '19. Giving him 170 hits per season for each of the next eight seasons (bet the under), Altuve would be within about 30 hits of 3000 when approaching his 39th birthday at the start of the 2029 season. Craig Biggio remained a lineup regular at age 40 only so he could get to 3000.

Texans face another tough test against Steelers

It's no shocking upset if they win but the Texans probably come home from Pittsburgh Sunday night with an 0-3 record. As only four point underdogs they should have a much better shot than they did against the Chiefs and Ravens. Not that that is saying much. The Texans were pretty pitifully overmatched by the Chiefs and Ravens, the faint silver lining is that they're the two best teams in the AFC. It's possible the Steelers are the third best team (I'll take the Bills but it's possible). So even at 0-3 the Texans' season wouldn't be dead. Just two years ago they opened 0-3 before ripping off nine straight wins and finishing 11-5. But just as the 2018 Texans wound up, this season's team would be a total pretender.

All five starters back on the offensive line was supposed to be a boon to the Texans' offense. The pass protection has been porous and now has to deal with a top tier pass rushing Steeler defense. Deshaun Watson has been his usual terrifically elusive self, but merely okay throwing the ball. Offensively, 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has looked all right at quarterback after missing all but the opener last season with a blown out throwing elbow. Big Ben is not close to the mobility threat Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are, but the Texan D which has thus far been sieve-like against running backs will see two backs each over five yards per carry thus far in James Conner and Benny Snell.

At least the Texans will have no crowd noise to deal with at Heinz Field. The Steelers are 2-0 but have only beaten the awful Giants and the injury-battered Broncos.


Buzzer Beaters:

1. One game is one game but Bregman, Altuve, and Springer all homering Thursday night had to create some warm feelings for any Astros fan.

2. The Lakers-Nuggets series has been outstanding. Number of Rockets you think are watching any of it: over/under 2 1/2.

3. Greatest Bennys: Bronze-the one with the Jets Silver-Jack Gold-Goodman

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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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