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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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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