THE PALLILOG

The Astros' offense will be fine and the return of the Rockets

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The problems caused by COVID-19 remain plentiful but for those who love sports the past week sure has been a port in the storm. First Major League Baseball made it back (though already possibly imperiled) and now the NBA. Life is a bit better.

First the Astros. If George Springer is going to bat .048 this season, with Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman each at .174, the Astros are finished! In Springer's case it would be the worst job ever by a player making his case for a massive free agent contract. There of course is no chance of those numbers remaining where they are, so for anyone hyperventilating over the lousy starts we recommend a few deep breaths into a paper bag. Overall the offense should be fine, especially when Yordan Alvarez fortifies the lineup within a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, the results of the Astros' mediocre 3-3 opening homestand were vastly exceeded in importance by the lousy to devastating Justin Verlander injury. He holds out hope that his forearm strain will allow a return in perhaps a month. The smart money is probably on worse than that. The ugly elephant in the room is the possibility of Tommy John surgery which would sideline Verlander well into 2021 when he'll be 38 years old and approaching free agency. If Verlander's total output for 2020 turns out to be six innings for more than 12 million dollars, the Astros aren't doomed for the season but they drop from the top echelon of World Series contenders. With the postseason fielded expanded to eight teams per league the Astros certainly still should make the playoffs with one of the eight best records in the American League, it's just no longer a virtual lock.

It's amazing that within the first five games of the season Dusty Baker called on seven different relief pitchers to make their major league debuts.

Rockets Relaunch

The Rockets start their "seeding games" eight game finish to the regular season Friday night playing the Dallas Mavericks in Orlando. The Rockets sit in sixth place in the Western Conference, a game and a half ahead of the Mavs. A Rocket win would pretty much assure they would finish no lower than sixth. Does it really matter? The Lakers have cinched up the top seed in the West. Unless you think another team is going to upset the Lakers or Clippers, or the Clippers fall to fourth or fifth which would mean they'd play the Lakers in the conference semis, the Rockets are going to have to beat both the Clippers and Lakers to win the West. That's the simplest reason why the Rockets probably will not be winning the West, notwithstanding Daryl Morey's claim that the Rockets "should win this thing." But, hey, without upsets and dramatic runs we'd have little reason to care about sports to begin with.

Fabulous return to play for the NBA with a pair of two point games Thursday night. The look of the venues in Orlando is good. The virtual fans thing is silly but it works. Shocked that the NBA didn't make the virtual seats a "sellout." During the Clippers-Lakers game I even almost enjoyed Reggie Miller using the word "here" every two-point-three sentences! Marv Albert will forever to me be the play-by-play voice most synonymous with the NBA, but honestly, Kevin Harlan and Ian Eagle are a better one-two play-by-play punch now. At 79 years old Marv opted for caution and is skipping the "bubble."

NFL Top 100

NFL Network finished it's ranking of the top 100 players for the 2020 NFL season as voted upon by NFL players. The criteria are nebulous. Is it purely on expectations for 2020? Does body of work matter, and if so more so than 2019? Whatever the criteria, leaving out the Ravens and the Chiefs, how many NFL teams do you think would rather have Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback than Lamar Jackson? I would think 30 out of 30 or darn close to it. The players voted Jackson the best player for 2020. The guy was MVP last season but…

Tom Brady was ranked 14th, Deshaun Watson 20th. If they knew nothing else about their roster I would think more coaches and general managers would opt for Watson now. Watt came in at number 25. T.J. Watt. J.J. was number 45. Attendance is part of the grade and J.J. has failed on that front three of the last four seasons. The lone other Texan in the top 100 was Laremy Tunsil at number 66.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Joe Kelly's 8 game suspension may be too harsh (he didn't actually hit anyone and while his purpose was obvious it's not a 100% certainty), but better a penalty too harsh than too lenient on this.

2. Who'd have thought it would be the SEC to go with the plan of longest delay to the start of its college football season?

3. Best ever basketball announcer teams: Bronze-Marv Albert, Mike Fratello Silver-Dick Enberg, Billy Packer, Al McGwire Gold-Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy

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With the disappointing loss in extra innings late the night before, the Astros returned to RingCentral Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to try and even the series against the A's, who now owned a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over Houston. Here is a quick rundown of the middle game of the series:

Final Score: A's 3, Astros 1.

Record: 6-8, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Frankie Montas (2-1, 1.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (0-2, 2.04 ERA).

Valdez does his job

Framber Valdez ran into stress early on Saturday, facing trouble in the bottom of the first inning. It started with a leadoff solo home run, putting Oakland up 1-0 before they would record an out. He later allowed back-to-back one-out singles to rack up his pitch count in the frame but would limit the damage to the single run.

He was able to re-focus and settle in during the following innings, getting quick, scoreless innings in the next four. In the bottom of the sixth, a leadoff groundball that likely should have been the first out was instead a single that would come back to bite Houston. That runner stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw, then scored on an RBI-groundout, doubling Oakland's lead to 2-0. Valdez would go one more inning, giving Houston precisely what they needed by helping give their exhausted bullpen a break. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR.

Houston's offense unable to get anything going

Unfortunately for Houston, Frankie Montas was even more efficient on the other side. Houston was only able to notch two hits against him over seven innings while Montas only had to throw 86 pitches over that span. Oakland would go to their bullpen in the top of the eighth, with the Astros getting just a single in the inning.

Nivaldo Rodriguez would take over for Valdez in the bottom of the eighth and allowed a solo home run to make it 3-0 before completing the inning. Houston would get a leadoff double by Kyle Tucker to start the top of the ninth, and he would come around to score on an RBI-single by Alex Bregman. That's as close as Houston would get, though, as Oakland would finish off the win to secure the series and extend Houston's losing streak to four games.

Up Next: The final game of this series and Houston's nine-game road trip will be on Sunday at 3:10 PM Central. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 2.31 ERA) will make a start for the A's while Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his success in 2020 for the Astros.

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