THE PALLILOG

Where the Texans stand in the AFC pecking order after big win over the Patriots

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At 8-4 have the Texans stamped themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders? No they have not. Not yet. They're making progress, but not yet. Have you seen the Ravens? The Ravens who pulverized the Texans 41-7 in Baltimore 3 weeks ago? Still, beating a 10-1 Patriots team was stout. But the game was in Houston, under an obnoxiously and laughably closed roof. To be a Super Bowl team the Texans are going to have win in January, on the road, probably twice.

The Texans still have faint hopes for a first round playoff bye. They're two games behind New England, but the Patriots do play the Chiefs this Sunday and the Bills in two weeks. However, both those games are in Foxborough where the Pats are undefeated this season. Quick: name the only other NFL team perfect at home this season. Answer below in Buzzer Beaters.

Following games vs. the Ravens, Colts, and Patriots it's understandable that the lowly Broncos coming to town brings very little buzz. It's a take out the trash game for the Texans to get to 9-4. They then could wrap up the AFC South with a win in Nashville next Sunday. On the other hand, the Titans know that if they if win in Oakland Sunday, they take the South by beating the Texans twice over the final three games.

Rockets recover

Excellent bounce back win for the Rockets Thursday night in Toronto. Hitting 40 percent of 55 three point attempts facilitated the victory. That after the Rockets looked ridiculous in thinking the NBA should award them a win over the Spurs because of the James Harden uncredited dunk in Tuesday's lame loss at San Antonio. That only enhanced their reputation as a whiny organization, which is too bad because it's a really good organization. As if a basket they didn't get with more than half the fourth quarter remaining decided the game. The Rockets lost that game because they fell apart, puking up a 22 point lead against a bad Spurs team.

The Rockets lost that game because their defense disintegrated. Not a rarity so far this season. The Rockets lost that game because despite scoring 50 points James Harden was not good. 11 of 38 shooting, kept jacking up long threes on a night when he was making very few (4-20). Harden is a streaky three point shooter. Overall this season he is below NBA average behind the three point line.

The Rockets lost that game because Russell Westbrook was horrible. A triple double rings verrrrry hollow in a game where Westbrook made seven of 30 shots from the floor. As over his NBA career, Westbrook is a phenomenally exciting player to watch. Also as over his NBA career, he is a phenomenally bad outside shooter. No other player in NBA history with as lousy a three point percentage as Westbrook's is within a thousand three point attempts of Westbrook's total. So far this season he's a ridiculously inept 22 percent. The Rockets, so smart with analytics, are so dumb if they continue to encourage, or allow, Westbrook to take on average more than five threes per game. The Westbricking will continue. He's 31 years old, it's basketball insane to hope he'll now develop into a good outside shooter. Or a decent one.

The 14-7 Rockets are again clearly a very good team, but they also look like a B-list contender. At least there's plenty of season left to upgrade from there.

Astros likely to be quiet

The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings open Sunday in San Diego. The Astros' roster is now so top heavy with massive salaries that it will be a big surprise if they make any significant additions. They have no legitimate starting catcher. Resigning Robinson Chirinos seems the most likely play there. They want/need to add a back of the rotation starter and will be shopping the discount bin, but may still blanch at those prices. The Astros are unlikely to offer market value for Will Harris or Joe Smith to return to the bullpen, and instead keep clearly inferior but much cheaper guys like Chris Devenski and Joe Biagini. Trading Jake Marisnick to the Mets to shave a couple of million dollars off the payroll is a sign of the times. Myles Straw will play for about one fifth of what Marisnick will make in 2020. There are no takers for Josh Reddick's 13 million dollar salary for 2020, the Astros literally cannot give him away.

The Astros' overall talent remains outstanding. The lineup is super-stacked, the pitching should still be fine overall unless Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke shows notable slippage. But if the Yankees sign Gerrit Cole they obviously go into the season with the best American League squad on paper

​Buzzer Beaters

1. SKOL! The Vikings are 5-0 at home. 2. The NFL 100 greatest players list Friday night reveals its 13 greatest defensive backs. My all-time starting secondary: Corners Deion Sanders and Dick "Night Train" Lane. Safeties Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed. Nickel back 1980 Lester Hayes. 3. Lone Star State FBS Un-Coach of the Year medalists: Bronze-Jimbo Fisher Silver-Tom Herman Gold-Dana Holgorsen








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Houston is back in the win column

McCullers Jr. spins a gem as Astros get a much-needed win over Giants

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

After getting swept by the A's in Oakland to end a road trip with a five-game losing streak, the Astros returned to Houston to try and get back on track. To do so, they'd need a win against the Giants on Monday night. Here is a quick recap of the series opener:

Final Score: Astros 6, Giants 4.

Record: 7-9, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 6.10 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Logan Webb (1-1, 2.81 ERA).

Houston builds up an early lead

The early goings of Monday's game went very similar to the last time Lance McCullers Jr. took the mound. He would have a terrific first three innings while his offense gave him an early lead. The first run came in the bottom of the second, with Yuli Gurriel reaching base on a one-out double, moving to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on an RBI-single by Carlos Correa.

Correa would take part in a four-run inning in the third, as Houston would score two on a two-RBI ground-rule double by Michael Brantley, another on an error, then Correa's second RBI of the night, a groundout to bring in a run and make it 5-0. Unlike the last start in Arizona, where the roof opened and McCullers Jr. fell apart in the fourth, he was able to make quick work of his opponent for a 1-2-3 frame. As he kept recording scoreless innings, Martin Maldonado added another run to the lead with a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, making it 6-0.

McCullers Jr. takes a no-hitter into the seventh

While the Astros were building their lead, McCullers Jr. was spinning a gem on the mound. He allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings, which came on a hit-by-pitch. He entered the seventh with a no-hitter in progress, but the Giants would get their first hit of the night to end the no-hit bid.

Regardless, the start was precisely what McCullers Jr. needed to restore his confidence after the disastrous inning he had in his last appearance. He would go on to complete the seventh inning before Houston would go to the bullpen with the large lead in the eighth. His final line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K 0 HR, 1 HPB.

Houston gets back in the win column despite more struggles by Josh James

Josh James entered out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth but allowed the first run of the night for San Francisco via a solo home run with one out to make it 6-1. He would complete the inning and then return for the top of the ninth. He would have another rocky inning, issuing a leadoff walk before a single and double would make it a four-run game at 6-2, still with no outs in the inning and runners on second and third, prompting another call to the bullpen.

Dusty Baker would bring in his current closer, Ryan Pressly, to try and finish the game, now in a save situation. Pressly would retire the first two batters he faced before allowing a two-RBI single to make it 6-4, but would eventually get the final out to get Houston the much-needed win. With the victory, the Astros moved back into second place in the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Tuesday at 8:10 PM Central. The Giants, working with a fluid rotation, have not yet fully decided on their starter, while the Astros will get another start from Brandon Bielak (2-0, 0.87 ERA) who will look to repeat the success of his five-inning, no-run start in Arizona last week.

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