THE PALLILOG

Rockets need Harden to be a monster to have any chance against Warriors

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The Rockets are very good. The Warriors are better. In the end it seems that simple. Not head, shoulders, and torso better, or by a country mile better. But better.

At the start of this Western Conference semifinal series I said of course the Rockets have a shot, but if both teams play their best or to a similar percentage of their capabilities, the Warriors win, with Kevin Durant the fundamental difference. Hey, I miss on plenty of predictions, but it's not looking like this will be one of those.

After returning from his eye scratches, James Harden had a solid game two, but not a tremendous game two. To have a shot at what would now be a shocking series victory, the Rockets need tremendous Harden.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, as Chris Paul sets to turn 34 years old Monday, it looks more and more that as big a gamer as he is and as ferocious a competitor as he is, Paul doesn't have it in him at this point to string together superstar level games. Austin Rivers made a more positive impact in his time on the court in Tuesday's game two loss.

Maybe the three days off between games two and three put a little extra bounce in Paul's step. But the same can be said for Golden State's 35 year old Warrior Andre Iguodala who has gashed the Rockets for 30 points over the first two games, on 12 of 16 shooting, while playing his still stellar defense.

Another way of framing the Rockets' challenge: they're down 2-0 and neither Stephen Curry nor Klay Thompson has had a hot shooting game. That's actually true for Durant too.

Beating Golden State four out of seven games is a huge mountain to climb. Beating Golden State four out of five games is a mountain that looks down on Everest. All the Rockets can try to do is start with winning once. They are small favorites in game three.

A hot new prospect

The Astros have no grave concerns these days. Yes, the starting pitching isn't as good as it was last year. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley, and Brad Peacock all bring question marks. At AAA Round Rock Forrest Whitley has had two solid outings and two lousy ones. Apart from Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna the bullpen is shaky. There are still hardly any pitching staffs you would even consider swapping with soup to nuts. Offensively, despite three anemic games out of four at Minnesota this week. the lineup is deeper and more potent than last season's, if not as stout as 2017's World Series Champion. No other American League West squad is giving indication of being 90+ win quality. Through what can be considered a meh 18-14 first one fifth of the season the Astros are on pace to win only 91.

The clock ticks on promoting lefthanded hitting monster Yordan Alvarez as a way to potentially fortify the offense. It's still not a month of games, but Alvarez has blown past Kyle Tucker as the bat most deserving a call-up to the big leagues. Through his first 24 games at AAA Alvarez's slash line is an awesome .402/.490/.931. (Tucker is batting .191). His defense is considered shaky at best, be it in the outfield or at first base. Yeah, well, American League teams use the designated hitter and Tyler White is not proving worthy of that gig. White is 28 and of limited upside. First baseman Yuli Gurriel may merely be off to a slow start, but it is a verrrrry slow start. Gurriel slipped a bit from 2017 to 2018, and turns 35 next month.

Jon Singleton was a hyped left handed slugging prospect who epically flopped. A.J. Reed was a hyped left handed hitting first baseman/DH prospect who now has no meaningful future in the organization. The left handed hitting Tucker could be a "can't miss" guy who misses, though he still has time to figure things out. Alvarez is performing at a higher level than those guys ever did/have in the minors.

In August of 2016 General Manager Jeff Luhnow acquired the then 19 year old Alvarez from the Dodgers in exchange for middling relief pitcher Josh Fields. It would be silly to think the deal plays out as lopsidedly in the Astros' favor as the Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell deal, but it might be a lot of fun to see. The Astros obviously prefer to keep Alvarez in the minors until June, to delay his salary arbitration eligibility a year.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. Few care about horse racing these days, but the Kentucky Derby is still an exciting two minutes. 2. Congrats to Daryl Morey key aide Gersson Rosas, now the highest placed Latino executive in NBA history as President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 3. Best BBQ entrees when done right: Bronze-pulled pork Silver-brisket Gold-ribs


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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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