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)


Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome