The Pallilog

Now that he is officially hired, how will Dusty Baker work out for the Astros?

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Jim Crane going with Dusty Baker as the Astros' manager for 2020 drew out many Dusty Dissers. If you are one of them I'll call you Francis. As in Sergeant Hulka in Stripes: "Lighten up Francis."

Dusty Baker is a solid hire. Or, given his legal name is Johnny B. Baker, a good hire. Yes he's 70 years old. But Dusty won't be trying to score from second base on singles, or last six innings as a starting pitcher. He last managed in 2017. He's been out two seasons. Two. Not 12. The Astros become Baker's fifth different franchise to manage. He took the prior four to the postseason a total of nine times over 22 seasons, including the Giants to the 2002 World Series.

He's never been a master strategist. That's not critical (though can matter more in the postseason). Baker's handling of pitchers has fairly been called into question. Well, that is mitigated with Brent Strom remaining on staff as the pitching coach.

Where Baker has always impressed is as a leader of men. As I put it last week, I've always thought Dusty's teams took on his personality of upbeat and intense. The Astros have great talent. They're going to have to deal with season long fallout and derision from the cheating scandal. Baker has the temperament to helm the ship through some stormy seas. When with the Giants he dealt with Barry Bonds. When with the Cubs he dealt with Sammy Sosa and the aftermath of "the Bartman game."

Baker only gets a one season guarantee, with the Astros holding an option for 2021. I wonder how interesting A.J. Hinch finds that. The 2020 vision is clear: if the Astros don't have a highly successful 2020, Dusty Baker is a one and done manager. Borrowing from Bill Parcells, Baker isn't buying green bananas. His hire is a short play. If hugely successful and hence a longer play, win-win.

Texans disconnected

I think we all get why so many people are upset, or furious, or laughing, at Cal McNair cementing Bill O'Brien's power as Texans' Head Coach and General Manager. Over O'Brien's six seasons the other three AFC South teams have reached the AFC Championship Game. The Texans, not close. With the exception of Bill Belichick (and maybe Andy Reid and Jon Gruden) O'Brien is now the most powerful Head Coach in the NFL.

In McNair's press release statement celebrating the formalization of O'Brien's enhanced job title he claimed the 2019 Texans had "many thrilling victories at home." That's as ridiculous as the power Emperor O has amassed, and frankly feeds right into the belief of many that the franchise's quality standards fall lamely short. The playoff rally against the Bills and finally beating the Patriots again qualify as thrilling. The Texans other "thrilling home victories" came over the Falcons (finished 7-9), Jaguars (6-10), Raiders (7-9) and Colts (7-9). Cal omitted an adjective characterizing the home losses to the Panthers (5-11) and Broncos (7-9). And one for the third humiliating postseason loss of the O'Brien era.

At least one of the existing 32 franchises (almost certainly several of them) will not next win a Super Bowl until SB LXXXV at the very earliest. What percentage chance do you give Houston of snapping its 0 for all-time status with regard to reaching The Big Game?

Oh yes, the Super Bowl

Until kickoff Sunday the Chiefs last played in a Super Bowl 50 seasons ago (their lone SB win). The 49ers last reached it with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Seems like 20 years ago. It was seven years ago. A win gives the Niners a sixth Lombardi Trophy and ties them with the Patriots and Steelers for most ever. The Chiefs favored by a point or point and a half makes this just the fourth Super Bowl with a point spread lower than two. I lean Niners. They have the pass rush to disrupt Patrick Mahomes much more so than the feeble Texans' rush and the Titans' mediocre rush. For the Niners' sake they better disrupt. No secondary has enough good cover people to handle the Chiefs' weaponry.

Are the Rockets still here?


The general lack of interest in the Rockets is alarming, though not as much so as James Harden's shooting coma over his last 10 games. The Rockets' season to date certainly isn't bad at 29-18, but they just aren't that good this season. They enter the weekend tied for the 11th best record in the NBA. Meh. Tied with the Mavericks, against whom the Rockets catch a huge break Friday night with the absence of 20 year old superstar Luka Doncic thanks to a sprained ankle.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. More potent 1-2 punch: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce during the Super Bowl, or Jennifer Lopez and Shakira during halftime of the Super Bowl? 2.Most important things in life, as reminded by Kobe Bryant's tragic death coupled with the loss of eight other lives: the people in your life, and health. 3. Best Baker songs: Bronze-Michelle Pfeiffer "Makin' Whoopee" in The Fabulous Baker Boys Silver-Gerry Rafferty "Baker Street" Gold-Anita Baker "Sweet Love"


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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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