The Pallilog

NFL Draft gives us some sports, and the SEC dominates again

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We're into week seven of no meaningful athletic competition, so the arrival of the NFL Draft Thursday night was most welcome. Interest in it around here wasn't great given the Texans had no first round pick, but the first round is always a big deal and this year provided a few hours of hope toward having sporting events we lust to watch being back by September at the latest. I'd have much preferred NBA and NHL playoff games to watch.

The Texans have the eighth pick of the second round and Bill O'Brien could go a number of directions. Emperor O taking a guard would be justifiable, likewise wide receiver with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills both free agents after the 2020 season, but the defense is in need of a bigger boost. A defensive tackle, edge rusher, corner, or safety who fills draft cliché number one (best player available) should be able to make some impact as a rookie. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney might be the guy most expected to go in the first round who did not. Texas A&M defensive tackle Justin Madubuike would make sense if on the board for the Texans' pick at number 40.

For those who question whether the Southeastern Conference is overrated, stop. Nine of the first 15 selections were SEC guys. In all an amazing 15 of the 32 first round picks were SEC guys. LSU led the way with five. That's five more than the University of Texas which failed to produce a first rounder for the fifth year in a row. Going into Friday night UT produced just one second rounder in the last eight drafts.

In leading LSU to the National Championship against the toughest schedule any school has never negotiated its way through undefeated, Joe Burrow had the greatest passing season in the history of college football. 60 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Still, Burrow is not a "can't miss" prospect the way John Elway, Troy Aikman and Andrew Luck were as they entered the NFL. If Burrow goes on to greatness, the four guys taken behind him will have to collectively be great if they are to match the collective careers of the top five picks in the 1989 Draft. The second pick in '89 was epic steroid-created bust Tony Mandarich. But picks one, three, four and, five? All Hall of Famers. Aikman went first to the Cowboys, Barry Sanders third to the Lions, Derrick Thomas fourth to the Chiefs, and Deion Sanders fifth to the Falcons.

Wonder what Aaron Rodgers was thinking as he called it a night. The Green Bay Packers took an offensive player in the first round for the first time since 2011. Rather than help for Rodgers, the Pack tabbed his prospective successor in quarterback Jordan Love out of Utah State.


So weak of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to release his Red Sox investigation and punishment the day before the NFL Draft. The timing was not a coincidence. It was clearly designed to minimize coverage and blowback. Astropologists shouldn't go overboard in outrage at the relative wrist slap given the Bosox. At no point was there indication that the Red Sox' scheme was as extensive as the Astros' cheating. But for Manfred to completely exonerate Alex Cora of anything during his Boston tenure strains credulity to amazing levels.

Russell Westbrook told an amusing story during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week. When he was 10 or 11 Westbrook attended a Michael Jordan basketball camp in Santa Barbara not too far from Westbrook's California home. As the last day of camp was winding down, each team was allotted time to get an autograph from and picture with MJ. When Westbrook's team's turn came, he blew it off, to keep playing whatever game he was in at the time. When Russ got home his parents asked "Did you get your time with Michael?" Mom and Dad Westbrook had bought a basketball that he could get signed. Russ explained that he didn't because he'd kept playing instead. Then he cried over the opportunity lost. At least somewhat ironically two decades later, Westbrook gets Jordan autographs, on checks! He is an endorser of Nike's Jordan Brand.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. Playing them is one thing, but sitting through whole video baseball or basketball games being played? Can't do it. 2. Don't have to be desperate for sports content to find the Jordan/Bulls "The Last Dance" documentary riveting. 3. Best last dance songs: Bronze-Last Dance, Dua Lipa Silver-Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters Gold-Last Dance, Donna Summer. Of course.





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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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