Not enough energy

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to the Suns 127-91

On Friday night, the Rockets were a team on the second half of a road back-to-back without their star point guard and they certainly looked like it. Defensively, the Rockets weren't switching and communicating with the same level of effort they did the night prior in Los Angeles. Offensively, Houston clearly had tired legs as they struggled to make jump shots (11 of 48 from three-point range - 23%) or get out in transition and capitalize on the speed advantage you get when playing small

While the Rockets struggled the make shots (29 of 85 from the field - 34%), the Suns could not miss. Kelly Oubre Jr. absolutely destroyed the Rockets scoring 39 points on a ridiculous 14 of 19 shooting from the field, 7 of 9 shooting from deep, and 4 of 4 shooting from the free throw line. Devin Booker got it going early in the first quarter (18 points, 6 of 8 shooting from the field) and finished with 33 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block on 10 of 18 shooting from the field, 4 of 8 shooting from three-point range, and 9 of 9 shooting from the charity stripe.

This is the kind of game you want to just flush down the drain and move on. Houston has a couple of tough opponents coming up so it's a good thing Mike D'Antoni and James Harden decided to pack it in early in the 3rd quarter. Houston rarely does this, but it became so patently obvious that they weren't going to climb back into this game.

Star of the game: James Harden finished the game with 32 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal on 9 of 19 shooting from the field, 5 of 10 shooting from three-point range, and 9 of 10 shooting from the free throw line. While this loss stings for the Rockets, it's encouraging that Harden was able to get some momentum going before these next stretch of games (Utah on Sunday and Boston on Tuesday).

Honorable mention: Nobody besides Harden played particularly well tonight, but I suppose Ben McLemore played the least bad? McLemore had 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting from the field and 2 of 2 shooting from the free throw line. McLemore couldn't bail Houston out from beyond the arc (1 of 5 shooting), but he was one of only three players who scored in double digits tonight.

Key moment: The only moment where it looked like the Rockets might have a chance was when James Harden had his second quarter scoring run and brought the lead down the single digits. In the second quarter, Harden scored 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 shooting from behind the arc. Houston was only trailing 65-55 by the end of the first half. However, once Phoenix decided to trap double-team James Harden, the Rockets weren't able to make open three-pointers and as a result didn't capitalize on the run.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Utah Jazz at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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