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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Martin Treux Jr. is a threat to win each week. Photo via: Wiki Commons

The NASCAR Cup series heads for the paperclip this week for the Xfinity 500. This will be one of if not the most important race of 2020. This will be the final race before we decide who races for a championship in two weeks at Phoenix and what better place to decide that than here at one of NASCAR's most legendary tracks. There is a good chance we see a driver put the bumper to someone for the win as everything will be on the line for the eight drivers who are trying to punch their ticket. You definitely won't want to miss this race as there are sure to be hurt fenders and hurt feelings.

Last week NASCAR had maybe the longest rain delay in the history of the sport as mist halted the field for nearly four days. On Wednesday the race was finally restarted around the evening as they were finally able to complete the remainder of the race. When they finally got started, Kyle Busch was able to drive away from the field and claim his 57th career victory. While in the grand scheme of things this victory won't have too much of an effect on the championship, for Kyle to finally break that winless streak and make it to victory lane for the first time in 2020 had to have been special for him.

Another bright spot for this race was the emergence of rookie phenom Christopher Bell. In the closing stages, he seemed like he had the fastest car on the racetrack and was suddenly reeling in Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch for first and second but just couldn't seem to find the momentum to pass them. This race was special for Bob Leavine and his race team as this would be their final race at their home track. To commemorate this, they drove a throwback paint scheme to 2011 when the team started. I don't know if Bell and this team will get a win this year but I can see them rattling off some good runs before Leavine Family Racing closes its doors at the end of the year.

The final domino to fall in this year's insane Silly Season has finally come down as it was announced that Kyle Larson will drive the #5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports next season. Now everyone knows what happened with Larson earlier this year when he used a racial slur that cost him a job at Chip Ganassi Racing. This was one of the most embarrassing moments for the sport in recent memory and there isn't any doubt that Kyle deserved to be suspended. But I have to say I have been impressed with his community outreach efforts. Overall, I think that he is truly sorry for what he did and has learned from his mistake and that is something I can respect. I hope that he can continue down his road of improvement but now he will have to remember that he will be under constant media scrutiny and will have to be very conscious of what he says. But I think he will understand that and do just fine. Regardless, I wish him nothing but success going forward as he is one of the most talented race car drivers around.

So it has come down to this, eight drivers will have one more chance to qualify for the championship race. The four drivers that are currently in are Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski. Without a doubt, these four drivers are probably the most deserving as there have been 23 victories combined between all four of them. While these are the four most likely drivers to get in, there is always a good chance that one of the drivers on the outside looking in can win and take a spot from one of those four. Those four drivers are Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr, and Kurt Busch. While Bowman and Elliott can still mathematically get in on points, for the other two, it is win or be eliminated. While Busch has shown speed here I am not sure if he can run with some of the faster cars in the field. But if there is one thing we know, him and his crew-chief can get in on strategy as they did at Vegas. Martin Treux Jr is another threat to win each week, but he will be without his crew-chief James Small after it was discovered last week that he had an illegal spoiler as his crew-chief was ejected, and he was docked 20 points. If there is one thing the 2017 champion has on his side though is that he did win here earlier in the year. This battle will be fun to watch for sure.

The driver that I have winning this week was one I mentioned earlier and that's Chase Elliott. Over the course of his seven starts here, he has three top fives and five top tens. He has been so fast here ever since his rookie year in 2016 and even made his first start here one year earlier in 2015. This track is similar to what he cut his teeth on in the late models around the southeast and that has reflected in his performance. While he hasn't won here yet, he has been very close including back in 2017 when he was leading the race before being taken out by Denny Hamlin. I look for him to break through this weekend and clinch a spot in the championship race at Phoenix.

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