The Pallilog

Pallilo's view: Choke or just give credit to the Yankees?

The home team has yet to lose. The Astros hope that continues. Elsa/Getty Images

Sometimes athletes just fail. It doesn’t mean they choked. Of course, sometimes they do choke. So what gives with the Astros’ offense in the American League Championship Series? It has been jarring to see the best offense in Major League Baseball basically curl up in the fetal position and be as utterly inept as it was through the first five games against the Yankees.

The Astros’ offense deserved to get swept in four. Two runs were enough to win each of the first two games of the series thanks to the fabulous pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Game three saw one meaningless ninth inning run in an 8-1 loss. In the Gag Game 6-4 game four loss, only two earned runs among the four plated. Then a big fat ugly goose egg in game five. It was the Bungle in The Bronx, or as a friend suggested to me, DeBacle in DeBronx. A pitiful sum of six consequential earned runs mustered over five games.

Baseball isn’t golf. The opponent has direct bearing on the outcome. The Yankees have pitched spectacularly. They had the third best ERA in the American League this season. Their bullpen is sensational, and going into the series the Yankee pen over the Astro pen was the biggest edge New York had. One of baseball’s longest standing clichés is good pitching beats good hitting. In this series it has beaten it to a bloody pulp. But that doesn’t explain the magnitude of the Astros’ offensive failings.

George Springer can be slump prone and has gotten very few good swings. Marwin Gonzalez has looked generally awful at the plate.  Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman are fiery players whose intensity helps make them the players they are. Both seem to be pressing with that intensity perhaps turning against them. Carlos Correa appeared overanxious and lost his control of the strike zone. Even Jose Altuve was contaminated, going 0-for-the Bronx. There was no reason to expect significant contributions from Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. That leaves only Yuli Gurriel having holding up his end of the bargain in the batter’s box.

Sports Happens. Within a short series of games, prior long term data just isn’t very relevant. Right now Astro batters don’t need analytics, they need an analyst. A clinical analyst. Who works very quickly.

For all that, the spit-the-bit “we’ve blown it, it’s over” mentality held by plenty of Astros’ fans after game five amuses me. If your players took that mentality you would vilify them! Momentum can be so fickle. Up two games to none who had all the momentum? Leading 4-0 in game four who had all the momentum? A saying usually applied to an NBA Playoff series is that the series doesn’t truly begin until a road team wins a game. Well, this series now ends in six if the road team finally wins a game. Otherwise Houston hosts its first ever baseball game seven Saturday night.

Given the alternative, anyone who is a Houston fan desperately wants that game seven at Minute Maid Park. But the Rockets should be forgiven if in a quiet place a part of them thinks, “Really?”  The Rockets’ home opener is Saturday night against the Mavericks. If concurrently the Astros are playing Game 7 who the heck would prioritize the Rockets-Mavs? Well, the Rockets themselves obviously. Rockets’ employees, most I guess. Those who hate baseball, who are beneath contempt. Vastly overshadowed because of the late night game time following the Astros’ bullpen implosion, what an opening night win for the Rockets roaring back from 13 points down starting the fourth quarter to beat the Warriors in Oakland. That does not announce the Rockets are on equal footing with the Champs. But for those unaware or not yet in hoop mode, the Rockets (pending the X-factor of injuries) are going to win 50+ again this season.

Open week for the Texans. Open week, it’s not a bye!  The Texans in a different style remain what they have regularly been under Head Coach Bill O’Brien: mediocre. In the AFC South mediocrity means first place, a share of it anyway with the likewise 3-3 Jaguars and Titans. Holding the schedule edge Jacksonville is the favorite right now. If the Texans can’t avenge their season opening humiliating loss to the Jags with a December win in Florida it’s highly unlikely they win the division. First problems first. A road trip to Seattle next week will pose by far DeShaun Watson’s toughest challenge from a defense to date.

BUZZER BEATERS: 1. It is not too early to be genuinely concerned about Chris Paul’s sore knee.  2. The Cleveland Browns would beat Alabama by at least a field goal.  3. Best pie brand specific:  Gold-Goode Company pecan  Silver-Truluck’s key lime  Bronze-Marisa’s deep dish apple

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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