PLAYING THE PONIES

Sam Houston Race Park selections for Saturday, March 14

Coady photography

Here are my selections for Saturday night at Sam Houston Race Park. These are not meant to be in exact order, but merely the four horses I think have the best chance to win. For beginners, I suggest exacta boxes with three horses, using two of mine and one of your own. And you can always pick up a copy of Acing Racing 2016 to learn everything you need to know. (These are the picks and format that are available on the free tip sheet at SHRP).

FIRST
3-7-4-5
FINAL EXAM facd tough company in last; priors make him competitive


SECOND
3-1-5-6
NACOGDOCHES has been a money burner but might have found the right spot


THIRD
4-8-6-3
UNCORKED HUMOR should thrive at this distance


FOURTH
3-7-6-4
LOVELY LADY might wake up with the big drop in class


FIFTH

3-2-6-5
EMPRESSIVE REWARD has solid connections and some decent efforts

SIXTH
3-2-8-4
RANCHO BARGO might have found a good spot for a breakthrough


SEVENTH
3-7-6-1
GEOSCIENCE has flashed speed in both starts and should be in the mix


EIGHTH
8-5-2-7
CAIRO KING heads a pair of Asmussen runners that could win this

NINTH
2-3-6-5

WHISKEY FACTOR has nice works over the track and some decent efforts in his three starts

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Fortunately for Houston, the Yankees are also going through a rough patch. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Astros playing all their summer home games in air-conditioned Minute Maid Park waters down one aspect of the “dog days of summer” component of the baseball season, but the Astros are dealing with the dog days nevertheless. Even Justin Verlander was afflicted some Wednesday (these things are relative) as the Texas Rangers bombarded him for three runs. Three! Verlander’s season earned run average shot all the way up to 1.85 as he gave up more than one earned run for the first time in eight starts. It’s been a frustrating stretch for the Astros and their fans. A second series loss to the awful Oakland A's, a home series loss to the going nowhere Red Sox, settling for a split in Cleveland after winning the first two games of a four game series, and the as usual also-ran Rangers pestering them. Frustrating, but really not a big deal.

Since exploding out of the All-Star break with five straight wins, the Astros have stumbled to a 7-9 mark in their last 16 games. It happens. 162 games is a lot, and the gap between the haves and have-nots in terms of winning percentage is much smaller than it is in the NFL or NBA. The good news is the Yankees have been stumbling longer. There was no chance the Yankees were going to sustain the pace that had their record at 56-20, but their 15-20 mark since enabled the Astros to eliminate an eight game deficit in the race for the best record in the American League. The Astros have the clearly easier remaining schedule and hold the tiebreaker.

Back in 2017 the Astros blew the doors off the American League with a 42-16 start to their season. As you may recall they’d wind up winning the World Series. Their finishing kick to the regular season was spectacular, 22-8 the final month after acquiring Verlander from the Tigers. The Astros won 101 games in 2017. So simple math tells you for the nearly half the season that fell between the 42-16 start and the 22-8 close, the Astros were a perfectly mediocre ballclub winning 37 and losing 37. The point is, it’s the full body of work that defines the regular season. The Astros opened this season 11-11. Meaning between that and the recent 7-9 struggle, the Astros were an awesome 53-21. The 162 games are about how you finish overall to be positioned for the playoffs. The best team over the whole regular season infrequently wins the World Series. Since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995 in only seven of 27 seasons has MLB’s best team in the regular season won the postseason tournament.

Head-scratching lineup decisions continue

Dusty Baker does some things with the Astros lineup that are simply ridiculous. Among others General Manager James Click is either aware of this or overmatched in his job. Click is not overmatched in his job. Jake Meyers has been overmatched in his job offensively for a month now. As in nine for 64 at the plate, a .141 average and hard to be that bad .422 OPS. Chas McCormick has clobbered left-handed pitching this season while being inept vs. right-handers. So Dusty starting Meyers vs. lefty Martin Perez Tuesday then McCormick vs. righty Glenn Otto Wednesday was daffy. Not exactly shocking they combined to go 0 for seven.

Batting Yuli Gurriel second is also silly, with a bit of a caveat. Yuli has fallen way over the hill. His bat speed has obviously slipped, his plate discipline declined. Martin Maldonado is closer in on base percentage to Gurriel than Gurriel is to McCormick. I mean, come on. The somewhat caveat in Dusty’s defense is the Astro offense has more holes than it has had in years, so he has fewer good options. Michael Brantley’s get on base skill is sorely missed, looking more and more like for good. Over his last 50 games Jeremy Pena is batting .204 with a sub-.600 OPS. Other than McCormick vs. lefties the center field output stinks, Kyle Tucker’s season to date is disappointing, and while Alex Bregman has been much better the past six weeks he’s nowhere close to the stud of 2018 or superstar of 2019. Oh, there’s this. DUSTY, TREY MANCINI SHOULD BE IN THE LINEUP FOUR OUT OF EVERY FIVE GAMES. Mancini should be the primary first baseman, Gurriel more of a pinch hitter and defensive replacement.

McCullers returns this weekend

Lance McCullers has made nearly 12 million dollars so far this season. Saturday he’ll finally throw a pitch that counts. The five year 85 million dollar contract extension the Astros gave McCullers was an eyebrow raiser at point of signing given Lance’s injury history. Will he show enough to be in the Astros’ postseason starting rotation? Verlander is the unchallenged number one with Framber Valdez second. Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy would be the other two. Does McCullers supplant one? Luis Garcia’s ERA over his last 10 starts is 4.76, so he presently would not get consideration, though plenty can change. Under eight weeks of regular season remaining for water to find its level.

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