The Pallilog

No reason for Astros fans to panic

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Whistle if you thought the Astros would stink this season. If you are whistling you are a liar or an extremely negative person. But you would be right about the first week of the Astros' season. They stunk.

Two wins and five losses on their season opening road trip to St. Petersburg and Arlington was lousy. At no point last season did the Astros have a stretch in which they lost five out of seven road games played. This season's 2-5 stagger from the gate was put up the old-fashioned way, they earned it.

The prime culprit is the offense, which to be kind, has sucked. Opening Day the Astros scored 5 runs in beating last year's American League Cy Young Award winner. Their run totals by game since: 2, 1, 1, 4, 2, and 0. That's 10 runs total over the last six games. Of course, only silly people would be reaching for the panic button, those who I guess think Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley are going to hit .208 all season, and Jose Altuve .222.

The Astros spent on a franchise record-high payroll coming into this season, but so far it appears they forgot to include money in the budget to buy timely hits. Over the first seven games the Astros' batting average with runners in scoring position is 95. Not .195. .095. Four hits in 42 at bats. It is impossible for that degree of ineptitude to continue for much longer.

In the American League West, thanks to the Mariners very surprising 7-1 start the Astros are already four and a half games out of first place. The last time they were that far off the lead was the end of the 2016 season. For the Astros that was a postseason-less ending.

So while it's not remotely close to being at all make or break, this first homestand against the A's and Yankees takes on a little more importance than it would have seemed to carry a week ago. But If you'd like to bet me right now that the Astros won't make the playoffs this season, name your wager level.

On college basketball

Final Four weekend features the Texas Tech Red Raiders. In a twist on hell freezing over, Tech's presence perhaps explains the temperature in the 60s forecast for Minneapolis this weekend (snow is in the forecast for midweek). Tech and Auburn are both Final Four first timers. It would be amazing for both to reach Monday night's National Championship game. Neither is supposed to get there. Auburn is an underdog to Virginia as the Cavaliers make their first Final Four trip since they lost in the semifinals to the University of Houston in 1984. Texas Tech is a very small underdog to Michigan State which Tom Izzo has taken to the Final Four for an eighth time.

McCullough High School grad Chris Beard has done beyond spectacular work in three years as Head Coach of the Red Raiders, and rightfully will win the majority of college coach of the year awards. Kelvin Sampson is close behind him this season, so Coog fans should exhale with great satisfaction that Sampson has signed a new six year contract. Seems clear the Arkansas job opening merely set some parameters for Sampson's new UH deal. He earned the leverage, which no doubt helped his son Kellen get named "Head Coach in Waiting." Hey, if you were a Dad in the same spot you'd play the leverage card too.

Rockets down the stretch

The Rockets this weekend get to enjoy crushing the two worst teams (Knicks & Suns) in the NBA and then see what the stakes are for their regular season finale Tuesday at Oklahoma City. The Rockets and Trail Blazers have 28 losses with Portland holding the tiebreaker. The Nuggets have 26 losses and hold the tiebreaker over the Blazers. So…if the Rockets win out to finish 54-28, they need Denver to split its remaining four games for the Rockets to grab the number two seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are home for the Blazers Friday night, then play at Portland Sunday and then at Utah Monday before their regular season finale at home vs. the Timberwolves. Most simply, the Rockets want the Nuggets to win their two home games and lose their two road games. Combine that happening with a Rocket win over the Thunder and the Rockets have two rounds of homecourt advantage. Regardless, the Rockets have done phenomenal work recovering from their stumblebum 11-14 start, since then going 40-14.

Buzzer beaters

1. The Beard vs. The Freak: last time the NBA MVP winner didn't at least triple the runner-up in first place votes was 2008. Kobe Bryant over Chris Paul. 2. Do you already miss the AAF? 3. Teams that made surprising Final Four runs the season after losing their star: Bronze-2004 Georgia Tech (Chris Bosh) Silver-1983 Georgia (Dominique Wilkins) Gold-1984 Virginia (Ralph Sampson)


Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a tightly contested ALCS Game 2, the Astros were able to come out on top with a 3-2 win to even the series. Justin Verlander threw a great game while Carlos Correa came through with the walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

In ALCS Game 1, it was all Yankees as they overpowered Houston at the plate and on the mound en route to a shutout victory to steal a road game to start the seven-game series. Houston turned their attention to Game 2 with a fully-rested Justin Verlander on the mound to try and even the series. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (11 innings): Astros 3, Yankees 2.

Series: tied 1-1.

Winning Pitcher: Josh James.

Losing Pitcher: J.A. Happ.

Astros force Paxton out early after taking early lead


Houston's offense started on the right foot on Sunday in ALCS Game 2. After stranding a runner in the bottom of the first, the Astros scored first in the bottom of the second after Alex Bregman lasered a leadoff single, moved to second on a walk to Yordan Alvarez, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Yuli Gurriel, then scored on an RBI-double by Carlos Correa.

The run was a significant momentum boost for Houston, who had been shutout in the Game 1 loss. Although James Paxton would get through that inning with only one run allowed, he would allow back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the third, which prompted the Yankees to go to their bullpen early. The moved worked, as Houston would strand both runners to send the game to the fourth.

Verlander does his part


After three perfect innings for Justin Verlander, he would watch his 1-0 lead go away in the top of the fourth. New York's first baserunner of the night came on a leadoff walk allowed by Verlander to start the inning, which turned into a two-run home run blasted by Aaron Judge to center field to put the Yankees up 2-1 to erase Houston's lead.

Those would be the only runs allowed by Verlander, who would do an impressive job of holding the Yankees down over his start. The home run would be one of the few blemishes on a night he was able to induce outs and strikeouts to keep his team in it. He would continue into the seventh inning with a pitch count over 100, but after a two-out walk would be removed to end his night. His final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR.

Correa wins it in extras

After going down 2-1 earlier in the game, Verlander would leave in a 2-2 tie thanks to a solo home run by George Springer in the bottom of the fifth. Will Harris was first out of Houston's bullpen to finish off the seventh, getting a strikeout for the third out. Harris stayed on the mound to start the eighth, getting an out before issuing a walk to prompt AJ Hinch to bring in his closer, Roberto Osuna.

He would get two quick outs to finish the top of the eighth, but New York's bullpen would also hold in the bottom of the inning to send the gridlocked game to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Osuna would remain in the game and record a quick 1-2-3 frame to give Houston a chance to walk it off in the bottom half. In the bottom of the ninth, a pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz would work a two-out walk against Aroldis Chapman, giving the Astros a baserunner, but he would be left on base after a strikeout of Springer to end the inning and force extras. Joe Smith was next out of Houston's bullpen to start the top of the tenth and was able to retire the Yankees in order on seven pitches.

In the bottom of the tenth, New York turned to CC Sabathia for a rare relief appearance to face left-handed Michael Brantley, who would ground out for the first out. Jonathan Loaisiga was next out for the Yankees to try and finish the tenth. Instead, he would issue back-to-back one-out walks, resulting in another move to bring in J.A. Happ. Happ would get out of the jam with a strikeout and flyout to move the game to the eleventh.

Smith would get two quick outs in the top of the eleventh before a walk would end his night in favor of Ryan Pressly, who would allow a single, resulting in another change to Josh James, who would get the third out after a lengthy at-bat. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Correa evened the series with a solo home run to win the game.

Up Next: With the first two games in Houston accounted for, the ALCS will now shift to the Bronx. In Game 3 at 3:08 PM on Tuesday from New York, the pitching matchup will be the electric Gerrit Cole for Houston, who is 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 25 strikeouts after his two ALDS starts going up against Luis Severino who went four shutout innings in his ALDS start.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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