THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR playoffs at Bristol: Bass Pro Shops Night Race preview, picks

NASCAR playoffs at Bristol: Bass Pro Shops Night Race preview, picks
Start your engines! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It’s an elimination race this Saturday at Bristol for the round of 16. There are some heavy hitters below the cut line and this race is their last chance to move on to the round of 12 and keep their championship hopes alive. Bristol is one of the most famous tracks on the schedule, as its massive banking and short length make it difficult to pass on. With this being such a high-pressure race, we are sure to see a lot of angry drivers when it’s all said and done. On Thursday, the track officials added a layer of grip around the bottom groove, indeed, we will see many drivers fight for the inside line.

Last week we saw another non-playoff driver in Bubba Wallace take the checkered flag at Kansas. This had been a long time coming for Wallace as his performance has continued to improve as he has scored a career-high in both Top fives and Top tens. The mission for Bubba in these last ten races is to keep the #45 car in contention for the owner's championship as he switched numbers with teammate Ty Gibbs. He has put himself in a great position with this victory.

For some of the drivers currently in the playoffs, Kansas was a tough go as there were multiple drivers that fell out of the race. Drivers like Tyler Reddick and Kevin Harvick both were involved in crashes that would relegate them to 37th and 38th place. For Reddick, he has obtained a fair amount of stage points that give him a little bit of a cushion, but by no means is he safe. He’s only 2 points to the good over the 12th place cutoff line. As for Kevin Harvick, he is currently 16th in points and is almost in a must-win scenario to move on to the next round. Another driver that had trouble was Kyle Busch. He would spin early in the race and wasn’t able to salvage much as he finished a disappointing 26th place. This puts Busch one point below the cut line.

The biggest news article of the week and maybe of the year was the announcement of where Kyle would be racing next season. On Tuesday, as we all expected Kyle Busch was named the driver of the #8 for Richard Childress Racing. This had been a move that the two-time champion needed to make, as it was clear that Joe Gibbs Racing was ready to move in a different direction for next season. When asked about it in his press conference, Busch said he knew he wanted to go to the team after Reddick outran him in the clash at the coliseum. This gave him the confidence to make the move and sign his multi-year deal to drive for RCR. It was a bit ironic that Kyle would choose to come here considering Childress once had Kyle Busch in a headlock 12 years ago. But the two were able to laugh it off as Childress gifted his new driver one of his watches. This should be a fun partnership as they begin to fill out their sponsorship inventory for next season.

As we know, a lot of these moves usually have a domino effect. This one is no different, as there are now many questions about the future of Tyler Reddick. Both parties have stated that they intend to work together next season, as Childress plans on preparing a third team for his driver, who still has a year left on his contract. 2023 is going to be an awkward season.

As for who will drive the #18, it is becoming more and more clear that Ty Gibbs will get the call-up to replace Kyle Busch in 2023. This doesn’t come as a surprise, not just because his grandfather owns the team but because of how great he has been in the Xfinity Series as he’s the odds-on favorite to win the title. He’s also shown a lot of promise filling in for Kurt Busch.

Shifting the focus to this week’s race at Bristol, the driver I have winning this weekend is Kevin Harvick. The past two races have been a complete disaster for the 2014 champion. It started at Darlington when the car caught on fire out of nowhere, and then the next weekend crashed at Kansas. His back is against the wall, but this is where Harvick thrives. We saw back in his championship-winning season that he needed a win to move on to the championship race, and that’s exactly what he did. Bristol hasn’t been the best track for Harvick, but with the circumstances, there is no one I believe in more than him. Look for the #4 to take the victory come Saturday.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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