THE PALLILOG

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

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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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