THE PALLILOG

MLB's draft punishment could be a blessing in disguise for Astros

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

For all my character flaws, naivete is not among them. Unless I'm too naive to know otherwise. I think the baseball owners and players reach an agreement on a season longer than the insulting 48 games Commissioner Rob Manfred could cram down the players' throats. Could be mere wishful thinking.

The Major League Baseball Draft is consequential but pales in interest and significance relative to the NFL Draft and NBA Draft. The lower interest is explained simply in that college baseball is much less popular than its football and basketball brethren. The significance is less because of the importance of international signings (i.e. Dominican Republic) in Major League Baseball of players not eligible for the draft. Still, the draft matters.

The Astros' cheating program cost them their first and second round draft picks both this year and next. That's additionally problematic because new General Manager James Click inherited an Astros' farm system that now ranks in the bottom quarter among the 30 organizations. A possible silver lining of sorts to being out their top two picks two years running, the Astros save millions of dollars in signing bonuses they could choose to pour into, say, the Keep George Springer Fund.

The Astros' first selection was the 72nd overall choice, high school pitcher Alex Santos from the Bronx who grew up less than two miles from Yankee Stadium. Yes, a diehard Yankees fan. He'll adapt. Over the last 10 drafts, not one player taken 72nd has become a decent big leaguer. The Astros nailed a number 72 in 1989, selecting Shane Reynolds out of the University of Texas. Reynolds's 103 wins rank eighth on the Astros' career win list. How many of the seven ahead of him can you name? Answer below.

Turn back the clock

Kudos to AT&T Sportsnet for getting ahold of the original telecasts of the epic 1980 National League Championship Series between the Astros and Phillies. The ABC broadcast team of Keith Jackson, Don Drysdale, and Howard Cosell called a best-of-five series that went the distance, with games two, three, four, and five all going extra innings. Games three, four, and five air Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights respectively. At the Astrodome the Astros blew eighth inning leads in games four and five. In the decisive fifth game the Phils rallied from down 5-2 in the eighth against Nolan Ryan, wound up winning 8-7 in 10, and then went on to beat the Royals in the World Series. Almost 40 years later no spoiler alert was warranted!

Sunday night ESPN debuts the documentary "Long Gone Summer." That's the story of the 1998 Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run derby. After lying for years McGwire in 2010 finally fessed up to steroid use. 10 years later, Sosa has never admitted use. You don't supposeā€¦?

NBA

As the NBA prepares for a resumption of play at the end of next month the Rockets are considered a second tier title contender. The first tier consists of the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Rockets' last NBA Finals game, and the winning of their second championship as they polished off a four game sweep of the Orlando Magic. There have been only three Finals sweeps since: Lakers over the Nets in 2002, Spurs over the Cavaliers in 2007, and Warriors over the Cavs in 2018. In the quarter century since the Rockets last reached the title round, more than half the league's franchises (15 of 29) have played for the O'Brien Trophy.

The route to the 2020 title will be the most unique in league history. An ESPN report Thursday said as many as 50 players are iffy about the prospect of entering the Disney World "bubble" to play. Players will have the right to opt out, but they would be opting out of getting paid. How many ultimately will choose to stay away?

Fore!

The PGA returned to play Thursday in Fort Worth with the first round of what for years and years was known as the Colonial Invitational. The field is loaded (albeit without Tiger Woods) and expanded. Tom Lehman won the Colonial in 1995, so he was invited to play as a former champion. Lehman came credibly close to shooting his age in round one. Lehman is 61. He shot 65! It's a par 70 course as opposed to the more typical par 72, but that's phenomenal.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Joe Niekro 144, Roy Oswalt 143, Larry Dierker 137, Mike Scott 110, J.R. Richard 107, Nolan Ryan 106, Don Wilson 104

2. Of course NASCAR should have done away with Confederate flags at its races. A long time ago.

3. Best golf movies: Bronze-anything but Caddyshack II Silver-Tin Cup Gold-Caddyshack

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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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