The Pallilog

Rockets face tough stretch, but 3 seed is within range

Mike D'Antoni has a different looking roster now. Getty Images.

Don't look now (actually, do look now!), but the Rockets are within a game and a half of third place in the Western Conference. After two clunker shooting games in a row James Harden went nuts on Miami with 58 points Thursday night, so the Rockets roll with a four game winning streak into arguably their toughest three game stretch of the season. They're at Boston Sunday afternoon (though the Celtics have slumped badly of late) then at Toronto Tuesday before coming home for Philadelphia Friday. If the Rockets win two of those three they are a very good bet to reach 50 wins. 50 would be a big come down from last season's 65, but a fine recovery from this season's lame 11-14 start.

Call to arms

The first week of spring training games has produced the first mild "uh ohs" for the Astros. 40 percent of their projected starting rotation is ailing already. Collin McHugh lasted one inning of his spring debut before reporting a sore back. Josh James is down with a quad strain that has already knocked him out of the race for the fifth starter slot he was considered most likely to earn. But the Astros have depth options starting with Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock, plus Forrest Whitley almost certainly arrives mid-season. As long as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole remain healthy and effective, the Astros rotation should be just fine. Just not as good as last season's.

Big deal

So, by one basic measure the Phillies got a "deal" in landing Bryce Harper with a 13 year $330 million dollar contract. Harper's average annual salary is "only" about $25.4 million dollars. Manny Machado gets $30 per over 10 seasons with the Padres, Nolan Arenado locked in $32.5 per over the next eight years with the Rockies. Only Harper has had a better offensive season then Alex Bregman's 2018. Four seasons to go before Bregman can hit the market, if he hasn't by then signed an Astros contract that could enable him to buy most of his hometown of Albuquerque.

Decisions, decisions

The Texans have until Tuesday to use the franchise tag on Jadeveon Clowney and keep him off the free agent market. He's gotten better doing so less than in the past, but Bill O'Brien this week chose to utter crappola in saying the Texans haven't reached a decision yet. Unless they reach a long term contract agreement before Tuesday 3 p.m. Central Time, of course the Texans will tag Clowney. They'd be football morons not to do so. Texans' brass certainly has never proven itself football geniuses, but they're not morons.

Catching back on

How about Jason Witten leaving the Monday Night Football booth after one season to return to the Cowboys? When the season rolls around Witten will be 37 years old. Over his last two or three seasons Witten was down to pretty much a possession receiver. He didn't even average nine yards per catch in 2017. But if Witten has what he had then, he can still help Dak Prescott and the Cowboys's offense some. I feel confident the MNF chair won't be kept warm for Witten in his absence.

Not so Smart?

Think about this: To coach UT hoops, Shaka Smart gets paid more than double what Kelvin Sampson pulls down at UH. Seems beyond ridiculous now but the explanation is simple. Smart was a very hot ticket after his VCU run to the 2011 Final Four in Houston. Smart stayed at VCU another four years before deciding the Longhorn job and oodles of Longhorn cash were too much to pass up. He wouldn't have considered the UH gig for more than milliseconds. Sampson had done good work as an NBA assistant while serving out what was basically a five year banishment from the college game. He did not have big time programs lined up to hire him.

Funny how life goes sometimes. A general reflection of their current job performances was evidenced Wednesday. Kelvin's Coogs dismantled awful East Carolina while Shaka's Horns gagged away a 17 point lead in the last 8:40 of regulation and wound up losing in overtime at Baylor.

Shaka Smart seems like a genuinely good person, but his record with the Longhorns is 65-63. Over the last 365 days Sampson's Cougars are 31-3. As Astros' beat writer and ardent UH fan Brian McTaggart noted to me this week, the three losses have come by one point to Cincinnati in last season's AAC Tournament championship game, the one point heartbreaker to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, and this season's one blemish, the four point loss at Temple.

Saturday vs. Central Florida at the Fertitta Center isn't a total gimme, but there is no core reason to believe UH won't emerge at 28-1 for the season.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. So who bats cleanup for the Astros vs. right handed pitching, Michael Brantley or Carlos Correa? 2. Robert Kraft. I mean, seriously? 3. Best Italian restaurant desserts: Bronze-Italian Cream Cake Silver-Tiramisu Gold-Cassata Cake

Blue Jays demolish Houston on Father's Day

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 12-0 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Houston was seeking a series sweep on Father's Day after taking the first two games of the series with Toronto. Here is a quick rundown of the series finale:

Final Score: Blue Jays 12, Astros 0.

Record: 48-24, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Trent Thornton (2-5, 4.36 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brad Peacock (6-4, 3.67 ERA).

1) Toronto jumps ahead early, gives Peacock trouble

The Blue Jays ambushed Brad Peacock in the top of the first inning, getting a leadoff triple then a one-out sac fly followed by a solo home run, grabbing a quick 2-0 advantage. Peacock seemed to settle in after that, allowing just one hit along with a few walks over the next three innings, but Toronto would double their lead in the fifth.

In the top of the fifth, Peacock allowed a leadoff double then a one-out two-run home run to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Yuli's brother, extending the Blue Jay's lead to 4-0. Peacock would finish the fifth but that would be it for him in a disappointing start. His final line: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR.

2) Thornton handles Astros' offense in return to Houston

Trent Thornton, originally drafted by Houston but traded away in the deal for Aledmys Diaz this offseason, was on the mound for Toronto on Sunday looking to show the Astros what they were missing out on. He accomplished his mission, holding the Astros to just six hits over six and two-thirds innings while keeping them scoreless over that span.

They'd have no luck against Toronto's relievers, either, getting shutout for the fourth time this season.

3) Jays keep scoring against the bullpen

After Peacock's day ending with five innings of work, Cionel Perez came in for the sixth to try and keep the game close. Instead, he allowed a leadoff single, a double, then a three-run home run to extend Toronto's lead to 7-0, an RBI-single to make it 8-0, then a second three-run home run later in the inning blowing the game open at 11-0 with a seven-run inning.

Perez was able to get through the next two innings without allowing any more runs, then with the game very out of reach, Houston put Tyler White on the mound to throw the ninth. White allowed a solo home run to push the lead to 12-0 but would get through the rest of the inning to end the pitching day for the Astros.

Up Next: Houston will travel tonight to kick off a full week of games starting with a three-game series with the Reds in Cincinnati. The first game of the series will start at 6:10 PM tomorrow and will feature a pitching matchup of Wade Miley (6-3, 3.14 ERA) for the Astros going up against Luis Castillo (6-1, 2.20 ERA) for the Reds.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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