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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The Texans should swing for the fences. Composite image by Jack Brame.

With each passing day, the Deshaun drama thickens. It's progressed to Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeting, basically humbling himself to Deshaun.

A city that a few short weeks ago offered up mega star power across the board, has now seen James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and George Springer all depart for a variety of reasons. The impact of Deshaun leaving would be irreversible guaranteeing the Texans resting comfortably in the bottom of the AFC South for the next decade, wallowing in futility.

The saga will only intensify in two weeks should Patrick Mahomes collect another Lombard Trophy. As 2017 draft class contemporaries, Deshaun is comparing his career to #15. Another ring would place Mahomes up 2-0 in that discussion with Watson.

Perhaps the Texans should take a play from the Oilers playbook and inquire on Dabo Swinney. In the pursuit of securing the services of Warren Moon, the Oilers made a power play and secured the services of Moon's former CFL coach, Hugh Campbell. I've attended several luncheons and engagements in which Deshaun served as the keynote speaker. In many of those venues, a short video presentation would include personal greetings and feel good overtures directed to Deshaun from Dabo. The end result was Deshaun lighting up like a Christmas tree. There's a viable relationship in place there.

At the end of the day, Deshaun is a competitor. Losing DeAndre Hopkins was a major loss, but not to the degree that you might think. Deshaun still went out and threw for over 4,000 yards this season, and with a sub-par supporting cast, even pulling guys off of the practice squad in late December contests to fill out the receiving corps. The issue for Watson is trust, and culture. Hence, the recent headlines surrounding the Jets as a future home make very little sense. The Jets in 4 of their last 5 seasons have had double-digit losing seasons. Until the recent resurgence of the Browns, the Jets far and away have held the title of the "laughingstock" of the NFL.

The biggest challenge for the Texans is who could persuade Deshaun to stay? Could team President Jamey Rootes calm down the noise? It certainly won't come from Texans Ring of Honor recipient Andre Johnson. If I were Cal McNair, I would place a call to 105 Sikes Hall in Clemson, SC and ask for Dabo's office. That's as good of a place to start as any other.

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