TEAM COMES TO JAKE'S DEFENSE AND BRINGS SQUAD CLOSER TOGETHER

Marisnick collision and aftermath could be turning point in season

Photo via: Astros/Facebook

Every season has a turning point and a moment or two that becomes a catalyst as to whether or not the team makes a long run and has playoff success or fails to live up to expectations and goes home early. There is still plenty of the season still to be played, but this year's version of that defining moment could very well be the collision at home plate between Jake Marisinick and Angel's catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the aftermath both on the field and on social media. From the minute it happened the court of public opinion had plenty to say and lots of venom to spew Jake's way. From members of the media to current players like Yadier Molina and plenty of cowardly keyboard warriors on Twitter and Instagram, everyone took the time to rip Marisnick and detail the punishment they felt like he deserved. Through it all Jake handled it all with remorse and honest commentary as he tried to explain his thought process and what he planned to do going forward. Never once did he lash out or get into a war of words with his critics as he answered the numerous questions from the media and expressed his deep regret to Lucroy. Jake handled everything with class and in the process, we found out just how tight a bunch this Astros team really is.

AJ Hinch, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The greatest thing to come out of this horrible situation was the support Jake received from his teammates and the way his manager and some of the biggest names on the roster were outspoken in defending him and vouching for his character. From Lance McCullers and Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, everyone had Jake's back as they told anyone that would listen what a great person Jake was and how he would never purposely try and hurt another player in any game situation. George Springer was telling the TV audience right after the game ended and that was the first of many examples of a team that would not let one of their own be hung out to dry and left to fend for himself. A lot of players in the same situation would rather run and hide for fear of damaging their own image and yet here were the Astros providing strength in numbers as they protected their brother. Manager AJ Hinch, a former catcher, was quick to explain the split second a player has to decide his path and route to the plate while attempting to avoid the defender. He added that Jake was not a dirty player, the contact was not intentional and that Marisnick felt awful and was deeply concerned for Lucroy. It was a very unexpected outcome stemming from a very unfortunate situation.

With all that unfolded surrounding the collision, there was more adversity to come and it would get worse before it got better. Marisnick received word from the office of Major League Baseball that he would be suspended for two games for his role in the play. He quickly said he would appeal, but that would mean that he would have to play in Anaheim, against Lucroy's Angels with all of their fans chomping at the bit to give Jake a piece of their mind. They didn't hold back and certainly got more than their money's worth as the attacks were relentless and most had no boundaries or filter. Eventually, the Angles themselves would look for payback as pitcher Noe Ramirez would not only hit Jake but come dangerously close to his head and neck, drawing the ire of many of the Astros who witnessed it from the dugout. That would spur heated dialog between first baseman Albert Pujols and the Houston bench, so much so, that both benches would clear. Throughout it all, the one player that played peacemaker and attempted to get order restored was none other than Jake. He waved his guys back into the dugout as he calmly discussed everything with Pujols. He never once looked to fight or stir the pot, he only wanted to put everything behind him so he and the team could move on and move forward. The team was off to a slow start after the all-star break and they really needed to re-focus and get back to baseball.

Yuli Gurriel Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's funny how things work out and how a team can get closer and play better when faced with its darkest moments in the middle of a swarm of adversity. Turmoil and stressful situations can splinter a team and tear it apart if not handled correctly. On the flip side, a group that stays together no matter how bad a particular incident may seem can actually benefit from it and gain momentum from having stuck together in the face of the negativity. The latter has been the case for the Astros who seem to have used the Marisnick incident to get even tighter, closer together and focussed on moving forward winning as many games as possible to get closer to their ultimate goal of another World Series title. The team won the final 2 games in Anaheim after rallying around Jake and haven't looked back or lost since. They just swept the hated Texas Rangers in a 4 game series and broke out the heavy lumber in opening up a double-digit lead on their way to taking the first game of a huge series against the A's at Minute Maid Park Monday night. They have won 7 in a row and are getting healthier with each passing day as they are playing some of their best baseball of the year. The results speak for themselves as they have taken a licking and just keep on ticking. They say winning is contagious and together everyone achieves more, but this team found out the hard way that character is a powerful tool and if used by an entire team in unison, it can move mountains and build a culture. Jake has always been a fan favorite and one of the most beloved players in the Astros clubhouse, but he may be even more entrenched in this Houston lovefest after how he handled a very difficult situation and came out of it a better man for having gone through it. Let's hope that when the season is over and we look back on its biggest moments and turning points we can point a finger at those moments in mid-July that started with a collision and ended with a bang.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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