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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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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