THE PALLILOG

Sports return in less than two weeks, and Justin Verlander looks great

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As sports fans we're in the midst of a big game of "hold your breath." We're less than two weeks from the start of a truncated Major League Baseball season, inside three weeks from the resumption of a trimmed down NBA season, and as this posts two months to the day from the scheduled start of the NFL regular season. They'll all likely get going. College football, shakier. What is the likelihood of successful finishes? Major League Soccer resumed play this week in a so-called bubble in Orlando, and already two teams have been eliminated before ever playing because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests. In the spirit of hope let's address the locals preparing for play.

Not saying I'm desperate for MLB (yes I am!), but with no sound via the Astros' Twitter feed I watched about three innings of the Astros Thursday intrasquad scrimmage, their first scrimmage since regathering at Minute Maid Park. Worked for me. While Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer (twice) might disagree, it was great to watch Justin Verlander strike out all of them. With no coronavirus Verlander would have missed the first two months of the season recovering from injuries. A healthy Verlander for the full 60 game sprint season obviously greatly enhances the Astros' chances of getting back to the postseason, regardless of how anyone values the season.

You can watch the highlights from Verlander's performance below.

How the 2020 MLB season plays out is a very open question. Nevertheless, having to plan ahead MLB Thursday released the 2021 regular season schedule. Opening Day, April Fool's Day! The Astros are slated to be in Oakland.

Rocket launch

The Rockets settle at Disney World for a second training camp ahead of starting the eight game finish to the regular season. General Manager Daryl Morey has asserted that the Rockets "should win this thing," this thing being the NBA championship. As assertions go that is ridiculous. They certainly belong in the second tier of contenders behind the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. That does not translate to "should win this thing." Given the variables of top seeds no longer having homecourt advantage, players choosing to not play because of COVID concerns, players who get sidelined by COVID, and the Rockets having a good team, of course they have a shot. That is much different from "should win this thing." Getting a look at "Slim Jim" Harden will be interesting. He's reportedly trimmed down 15 to 20 pounds. How will Harden's game be impacted at each end of the court?

Big deal coming for Deshaun?

The Texans are slated to gather for training camp in a couple weeks to begin the run up to their season opener at Kansas City. The talk of the NFL this week was Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting about 140 million dollars guaranteed as part of his whopping 10 year 450 million dollar contract extension. Among those delighted for Mahomes is Texans' quarterback Deshaun Watson. Mahomes was the 10th pick in the 2017 draft, Watson went two selections later. Mahomes has obviously been much better in his two seasons as a starter winning an NFL Most Valuable Player Award and the following season leading KC to its first Super Bowl win in 50 years. Still, the Mahomes deal sets some parameters for what Watson can command from the Texans.

There has been scuttlebutt about Watson preferring a shorter term extension. If so that would clearly indicate uncertainty about believing in the long term potential for consistent legitimate Super Bowl contention for the franchise. That's reasonable since the Texans have never been a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Watson is under contract for this coming season and 2021. If necessary the Texans could then easily use the franchise tag on him for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, but hammering out an extension makes sense for both parties. Even though no deal would not mean Watson could leave any time soon, it would be a bad look for the Texans. Watson has avoided calamitous injuries the last two seasons but given his ACL history securing generational wealth in one form or another makes sense. So, there are two positive viable outcomes. In a shorter extension Watson would have to get basically all the money guaranteed, say, three years 115 million dollars. Or in a longer extension even more money guaranteed at a sub-Mahomes level, say, 7 years 275 million? Teams should not be compelled to match questionable to stupid deals other teams commit to, but in Watson's case there would seem no way he takes less than the nearly 108 million guaranteed dollars the Eagles gave Carson Wentz in his extension or the 110 million the Rams laughably lavished upon Jared Goff.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. How come hand sanitizer is now easily found, but not wipes?

2. UFC "Fight Island" seems impressively constructed, I'm just not into it.

3. Biggest losses if non-conference college football games are wiped out for 2020: Bronze-Ohio St. at Oregon Silver-Clemson at Notre Dame Gold-Texas at LSU

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Houston has lost back-to-back games

Astros drop series to Giants with finale loss

Houston's offense came up short again in San Francisco on Sunday. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games against the Giants, the Astros tried to grab the finale to win his high-difficulty series. They came up short, though, with San Francisco once again one-upping them on offense against Luis Garcia, giving Houston back-to-back losses.

Final Score: Giants 5, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 64-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Logan Webb (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia (7-6)

Gurriel strikes first, but Giants get the better of Garcia

The Astros were able to grab an early lead against Logan Webb in the top of the first, getting a runner on base to set up Yuli Gurriel for a two-run homer to start the scoring. Luis Garcia, who erased a walk in the first and a double in the second to maintain the 2-0 advantage, ran into trouble in the third. After two quick outs, Kris Bryant, recently acquired by the Giants at the trade deadline, changed the momentum with a solo homer in the first game for his new team.

They scored two more runs during the two-out rally on three hits and a walk, grabbing a 3-2 lead before Garcia would get the final out. He managed a scoreless fourth, but San Francisco got to him again in the fifth, chasing him out of the game with a two-out, two-run homer to extend their lead to 5-2. His final line in the loss: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 89 P.

Giants take series as Astros drop the finale

First out of Houston's bullpen was Rafael Montero, making his debut for his new team. He did well, getting the third out of the fifth then tossing a scoreless sixth. Phil Maton was next, coming in for the bottom of the seventh and erasing a single to keep it a three-run game. After wasting a chance with two runners on in the seventh, the Astros started a new rally in the top of the eighth, getting back-to-back hits to lead it off with runners on first and third with no outs.

They would get just one run from it, though, making it 5-3, which would go final after a scoreless bottom of the eighth by Ryne Stanek and a 1-2-3 inning at the plate by Houston in the top of the ninth. That gave the Giants the series and left the Astros reeling from back-to-back losses as they turn the page to another high-caliber opponent to finish this road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel to the last leg of this road trip, Los Angeles, before a day off on Monday. Tuesday, they'll pick up a quick two-game series with the Dodgers, with Lance McCullers Jr. (8-2, 3.23 ERA) for the Astros going up against Walker Buehler (11-1, 2.19 ERA) for LA in the opener at 9:10 PM Central.

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