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 suppose…?

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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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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