THE PALLILOG

R.I.P. to the Toy Cannon, an underrated Astro

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Caveat ahead of the rest of this column: So much is trivial relative to the life and death and other critical Covid-19 pandemic issues. But sports matter as passions of so many, as multi-billion dollar industries with impact on many other businesses, and beyond. All things in context.

This should have been a fantastic sports weekend around here. The Astros should have opened their season Thursday night at Minute Maid Park against the Angels. Might George Springer have belted an Opening Day homer for the fourth year in a row? Meanwhile at Toyota Center, Friday night should have brought play in the NCAA Tournament with a South Regional Sweet 16 doubleheader. It stood a pretty good chance that Baylor would would have one of the four teams playing. Friday's two winners would have played Sunday for a spot in the Final Four next weekend.

Two more entries on a seemingly infinite list of reasons to say bleep you coronavirus.

Respect upon the​ loss of Jimmy Wynn

Sad news with the passing Thursday of former Houston Colt 45 and Astro Jimmy Wynn at 78 years old. "The Toy Cannon" listed at five foot 10 inches, 160 pounds. He was not 5'10". Jose Altuve lists at 165 pounds. Wynn is a highly underappreciated player in baseball history. He had tremendous power, and would have much larger stats and be held in much higher regard playing in this era. Wynn certainly didn't amass no-doubter Hall of Fame numbers, but it's ridiculous that he got zero votes in his one and only year on the ballot (Class of 1983). Five players on the ballot that year with fewer career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ultimately would make the Hall of Fame. Wynn got zero votes and hence never again appeared on the ballot.

Wynn's career batting average was .250. That's obviously not remotely impressive, but Wynn was a walk drawing machine with six seasons racking up more than 100 walks topped by a whopping 148 in 1969. So his career on base percentage was .366. Altuve's is .364. Keep in mind that Wynn played his first several big league seasons in the 1960s, the worst decade ever for offense in Major League Baseball. Starting in 1965 he played his home games in the new power-sapping Astrodome. While players shouldn't get credit for what they did not produce, it's worth noting that Wynn basically lost a year of his prime when his wife at the time stabbed him in the gut with a steak knife on their anniversary in December of 1970. An argument got way out of hand, Wynn grabbed an unloaded shotgun, and his wife came at him. In '71 Wynn was obviously affected physically and mentally, batting .203 with just seven homers. In '72 he was back to being tremendous.

One simple stat used to rate how good guys are in the batter's box is OPS+. That's on base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for the ballparks in which guys played. 100 is average. Jimmy Wynn had six seasons in which his OPS was over 140. For context, Jeff Bagwell had eight seasons over 140, Lance Berkman six. The also-underappreciated Jose Cruz topped 140 three times. Altuve has done it twice, as has Alex Bregman the last two years.

Childhood memory time. Wynn was 35 when he joined the Yankees for the 1977 season. He turned out to be washed up. But Opening Day in his first at bat Wynn launched an absolute mortar shot of a home run to center/left-center field at Yankee Stadium. The deepest left-center wall in those days measured 430 feet from home plate. It was the last of Wynn's 291 big league homers.

In the limited number of post-career conversations I had with him Jimmy Wynn was always a delightful guy. Rest in peace "Toy Cannon."

Making due. Somewhat.

As we trudge on in our largely sports-less society of the time being, well, the NFL Draft is now less than a month away! We could almost happily overkill the run up to that, with breathless anticipation of which hole the Texans will fill with their first round pick. But, as you know the Texans don't have a first round pick. Come June in their drafts (as presently scheduled anyway) neither do the Astros or Rockets. Crummy year for Houston draft parties, even if gatherings were allowed.

Most of the heaviest lifting of NFL free agency is already done, though Jadeveon Clowney hasn't found a lavish home yet. Clowney is really good, but not a consistent hell raising superstar worth the 20 plus million per year he's seeking, especially with durability questions about him. The Texans certainly could use him...ha!

Buzzer Beaters

1. Only Opening Day no-hitter pitched in MLB history? Bob Feller in 1940. 2. The Astros' Ken Forsch threw one the second day of the 1979 season. 3. In game show Match Game style: Open ______. Bronze-Gym Silver-For Business Gold-Sesame

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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