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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The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

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