The Pallilog

Rockets' fall to fourth disappointing, but matchup with Jazz favors them

Composite photo by Jack Brame

Quite a two night stretch that saw the Rockets blow the second seed in the Western Conference and fall to fourth. Second time this season the Rockets wasted a huge lead against the Thunder. This time up 14 in the fourth quarter wasn't enough. It seemed as if Wednesday night Denver would grant the Rockets a reprieve, then the Nuggets rallied from 11 points down with under three and a half minutes to play to pull a game out of their posteriors vs. Minnesota to clinch the two seed. That as Portland wound up rallying from 28 points down to win a game it blatantly had set itself up to lose. As a result, with the Trail Blazers' season series win over the Rockets giving them the tiebreaker, the Rockets drop to a fourth seed first round matchup pairing with fifth seed Utah.

On the radio show Thursday Jeff Van Gundy said the Jazz is by far the toughest first round opponent the Rockets could have drawn. Not sure I agree with that relative to the Thunder, but Utah definitely looms as more problematic than seventh seeded San Antonio likely would have been if the Rockets had secured the two seed. Before losing a meaningless season finale the Jazz won 13 out of 15 games. However, only two of the wins came over playoff teams.

Utah's offense is middling, led by second year guard Donovan Mitchell. In the second round last spring the Rockets rendered then rookie Mitchell very inefficient in dusting the Jazz four games to one in the second round. The Jazz defense is elite, anchored by center Rudy Gobert, the best defensive big man in the game. If the Rockets get Gobert in foul trouble, the Jazz should be muted pretty easily. His presence in the paint and ability to recover in pick and roll situations is the biggest reason Utah can aggressively contest and close out on the perimeter and leads to the most fascinating statistical contrast in this series: Jazz opponents took the fewest three point shots in the league. You well know about the Rockets' again record-shattering bombs away mode.

Early test 

There is no such thing as a baseball showdown series in mid-April, but the Seattle Mariners try to make a modest statement as they play host to the Astros for three games at newly renamed T-Mobile Park this weekend. The M's 13-2 start is the biggest early season positive surprise in Major League Baseball. In the last 33 seasons Seattle is just the third team to win 13 of its first 15 games. The Mariner offense has been crushing it, scoring at least five runs in all but one game thus far. The Mariners have blasted 36 home runs already, becoming the first MLB team ever to hit at least one homer in all of its first 15 games.

The Astros' stumbling 2-5 season opening road trip already seems a distant memory. After a stink bomb of an offense on that trip, the obviously potent attack has roared to life, leading to the Astros sweeping a multi-series home stand for the first time since the end of the 2004 season when they won six straight games to snare a National League Wild Card spot. Jose Altuve looks great, Carlos Correa looks great. That's because given good health, they're great! Michael Brantley is performing right about as one would expect, George Springer similarly. Alex Bregman is Alex Bregman (don't push it on that minorly tweaked hamstring Alex). This lineup should score truckloads of runs.

It's dueling six game winning streaks and dueling southpaw Wades in the Friday night series opener, with Wade Miley pitching for the Astros, Wade LeBlanc for the Mariners. Then we'll see how much slugging the Mariners can muster Saturday and Sunday when faced with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The Mariners last played a postseason game in 2001. That's the longest drought in the big four North American leagues.

Final thoughts


What a great Final Four it was in Minneapolis. Virginia capping its bounce back from ultimate humiliation of last year being the first ever number one seed to lose to a 16, to ultimate jubilation of topping Texas Tech in overtime to win the National Championship. If a Red Raider, given the choice would you take: A. having won the title but head coach Chris Beard then opting for a job elsewhere, or B. runner-up with Beard staying in Lubbock? I'd think A would win a secret ballot vote tally. The reality of B is quite good.

Buzzer beaters

1. More likely: Rockets fall to the Jazz in round 1 or the Rockets dethrone the Warriors in round 2? 2. Less than two weeks to an extra critical NFL Draft for the Texans 3. Best present NBA nicknames: Bronze-Kevin Durant "The Slim Reaper" (though supposedly KD doesn't like it) Silver-Rudy Gobert "The French Rejection" Gold-Rudy Gobert "The Stifle Tower."

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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