THE PALLILOG

Texans look to make a huge statement; Astros already doing so, but not in a good way

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There is not a lengthy list of quality alternatives, in fact there is not much of a list at all, but a Texans win at 7-2 Baltimore on Sunday would be the biggest road victory in franchise history. A win takes the Texans to 7-3 and secures the driver's seat in the race for the second AFC postseason bye. A loss means 6-4, and pretty much no shot at a bye. The quarterback matchup is spectacular. Ravens' second year sensation Lamar Jackson is probably running second in the NFL Most Valuable player race. Texans' third year blossomed star Deshaun Watson might be third (the Seahawks' Russel Wilson is on the lead).

His running is what has made Jackson a unique force this season. He's on pace to shatter Michael Vick's NFL record for quarterback rushing yards in a season by more than 200 yards. This game is one where the Texans figure to sorely miss J.J. Watt, and could really use Jadeveon Clowney. Oh well.

The Astros busy autumn, good and bad, continued this week. By unanimous vote Yordan Alvarez won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Justin Verlander very deservedly won his second AL Cy Young Award, 17 votes to 13 over the equally (and maybe a wee bit more. Or less.) deserving Gerrit Cole. Alex Bregman settled for runner-up to third time winner Mike Trout in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting. Trout beat Bergman by the same 17-13 margin Verlander edged Cole. So by a two voter margin the Astros miss out on becoming the first MLB team ever to produce a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner, and MVP in the same year.

The General Managers meetings in Scottsdale Arizona this week produced next to nothing on the transaction front. The one something was something that if of a mind to spend the Astros should have been interested in pursuing, lefthanded reliever Will Smith to the Braves for three years $39 million dollars. The price of poker will be too high for the Astros on most guys this offseason. Next week there are owners meetings in Arlington, next month, the winter meetings in San Diego. By then major movement should have heated up on the free agent and trade fronts.

Fantasies can bring a little spice to life, but's let's put to sleep a couple of Astros related fantasies.

With Cole highly likely to become an ex-Astro, the need for a starting pitcher is glaring. Behind Verlander and Zack Greinke the Astros rotation is all question marks. Only a fool or the desperate would count on Lance McCullers for a healthy and very good season. Jose Urquidy is far from a given. Can't miss prospect Forrest Whitley? A huge question mark after two years filled with a PED suspension, injury issues, and plenty of lousy pitching. Whitley is still just 22 years old and could wind up fulfilling much of his potential. Banking on him would be dumb.

With all that said, forget any idea of a pursuit of Stephen Strasburg. The Astro World Series vanquisher won't get Cole money, but is likely to get 30 million per season for at least 4 years. There is no way that is in the Astros' budget. Mets free agent Zack Wheeler at 20 per? Doubtful.

Speaking of Astro World Series vanquishers, another fantasy is any notion of Lamar high school and Rice Owl-ex Anthony Rendon coming home via hometown discount. The Astros wouldn't be interested even with a discount. Rendon is joining the 30 mil per year club. So anyone thinking move on from brittle Carlos Correa, move Alex Bregman fulltime to short, plug in Rendon at third...that's really not fantasy, it's delusion. Correa is the Astros shortstop. Yes his track record of daintiness is troubling. His 2019 postseason overall was poor. But Correa remains relatively cheap, maybe eight or nine million next season. The Astros control him for two more seasons. Correa is still just 25, and really good. Cross your fingers about his health.


Then there was the latest Astros' ethical mess. Ex-Astro Mike Fiers has no motivation to concoct the story about the Astros' cheat of a sign-stealing system. The evidence has mounted that the Astros cheated. It's not as if the NCAA will vacate the 2017 World Series title, but in the aftermath of the Brandon Taubman fiasco it's another embarrassing black eye for the organization and another stain on this overall glorious era of Astros baseball. Does their moral compass truly grasp this? One particularly disappointing component would be if A.J. Hinch is confirmed as complicit with the scheme, especially after he was such a beacon of class during the Taubman mess. It's a humongous if. If yes, Hinch could also face a long suspension.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Machiavelli texted that the Astros have gone overboard. 2. Myles Garrett should have been arrested for his punk move Thursday at Mason Rudolph. 3. Greatest sports Rudolphs: Bronze-Kyle Silver-Tomjanovich Gold-Wilma


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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