THE PALLILOG

JJ Watt's legendary Texans career has come to an end

JJ Watt is moving on. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

As the Texans bumble around as the present laughingstock organization of the NFL if not all civilization, will their last 2020 employee to quit, be fired, or ask out please turn out the lights?

J.J. Watt asking for and receiving his release is the latest chapter. Turning 32 years old next month, Watt moving on makes sense for both parties. He can hook on with a contender. While not the player he used to be Watt is still good and interest in him will be substantial, albeit at a lower pay grade. What would have been Watt's 17 and a half million dollar salary for 2021 was bloated and untenable for the Texans, and rendered his trade value minimal. The first half of Watt's 10 season Texans career was legendary. The injury-plagued second half had just one big time season. With his three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards Watt's peak is unmatched in franchise history, but Andre Johnson maintained his peak level over a longer period. Who is the greatest Texan ever is legitimately debatable. We'll see whether Deshaun Watson will be around to make it a three horse race. Seems unlikely.

President Jamey Rootes departing this week is of very little consequence to the football side of the operation. The Texans will make money hand over fist regardless. But that a respected 20-plus year employee opts out without another job lined up is analogous to jumping off the Titanic and worrying about a lifeboat later.

The evident power and influence amassed by Svengali Jack Easterby is stupefying. In fairness, any team that hires a new head coach and a new general manager is going to have a degree of organizational turnover. Nevertheless, until stuff happens that materially moves the Texans in a positive direction, Cal McNair is going to be thought of as an in over his head boob who believes in Easterby the way five-year-olds believe in the Easter Bunny.

Baseball is right around the corner

This time next week Astros' spring training will be underway in West Palm Beach. While diminished from what they were 2017-19, the Astros continue to have the makings of what should be a good ballclub. The Astros are the only of Houston's Big Three franchises not needing a high-powered telescope to see championship contention.

Rough stretch for the Rockets

What a dismal week for the Rockets. Monday they managed a humiliating seven point fourth quarter in getting blown out at Charlotte, Tuesday in New Orleans the Pelicans mopped the floor with them, and then Thursday an early 13 point lead turned out to be worthless as Miami handled them at Toyota Center. The Hornets, Pelicans, and Heat all have losing records. The Rockets are now 11-14 and sinking like a stone. They simply don't have enough talent to be a good NBA team. This is not a "when Christian Wood gets back" solution waiting to happen. Too many teams are simply better. Hardly any teams have the paucity of young talent the Rockets have.

All in all John Wall has played at a solid level, especially for a guy who missed two years. The truth remains that he would not start at point guard for even half the teams in the Western Conference. Victor Oladipo simply hasn't been a good player as a Rocket, shooting below 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent behind the three point line. At the forward spots the Rockets have no one who qualifies as even close to an average starter. Even as well as Wood has shown offensively, he'd be no better than the third best player on any of the top four teams in the Eastern or Western Conference, and several others besides them.

The Rockets' last losing season was 2005-06. Their string of 14 straight non-losing seasons (they went 41-41 in 2015-16) is in dire jeopardy.

Without some lottery luck their immediate future beyond this season isn't bright either. If they can't move Wall or dump Eric Gordon's contact, those two guys and Wood on the roster mean the Rockets can't get close to salary cap space available to bid on even the lowest level maximum contract free agents.

The Rockets retain their first round pick if it is in the top four of this summer's draft. If it is not they get the lowest of their own, Oklahoma City's, and Miami's first rounders. That is probably a non-lottery Heat pick. The first draft pick element of the James Harden trade likely turns out to be worthless: the Rockets right to swap first rounders with the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have been slogging along in relative mediocrity, but no one thinks they will finish below the Rockets in the standings.

College hoops

Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Temple, Syracuse, UCLA, Notre Dame, St. John's, Indiana, Cincinnati, Utah, and Arizona. Those are the 13 college basketball programs with the most wins all-time. None of the 13 are in the current AP Top 25.

Texas Tech moved up to number seven on Monday, one spot ahead of the Houston Cougars. The Red Raiders Tuesday home loss to West Virginia means that Tech is ranked seventh in the nation, but sits in just sixth place in its conference. Half of the Big 12's 10 teams are in the top 15 nationally.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Brrr. Cold around here. Cold as the Rockets' shooting too many nights.

2. The Daytona 500 is Sunday. I always preferred Daytona to Indy. Go Richard Petty!

3. Best fruit named athletes: Bronze-Darryl Strawberry Silver-Deron Cherry Gold-Bob Lemon

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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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