The Pallilog

Yes, Astros fans, there is still a chance in this World Series

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

I'm saying there's a chance!

For all my character flaws, being a water-carrying silly homer shill is not among them.

I'm saying there's a chance. For the Astros. In this World Series.

A great chance? No. But slim beats the heck out of none. The way the Nationals beat the heck out of the Astros in game two.

The Astros getting swept or losing in five is more likely than them beating Washington four times in five games. Still, the Astros pulling it off isn't some million-to-one shot. What odds would you have given against the Nationals beating Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander at Minute Maid Park on consecutive nights? Sports happen. Overwhelming momentum, positive or negative, exists. Until it doesn't. A game three win puts them right back in it. A game three loss…

Three times in the World Series the home team lost the first two games then rallied to win the Series. Last to do it, the 1996 Yankees, who dropped two in the Bronx to the defending champion Atlanta Braves then swept the next four. The other teams to go from 0-2 down at home to ultimate glory are the '86 Mets and the '85 Royals.

The Nationals are outstanding. From late May until now, five months, their record is better than the Astros' record. The Nats essentially wipe out the massive starting pitching advantage the Astros held over basically everybody else. The Astros' offense, overhyped by more than a few as one of the greatest of all time, has largely failed this postseason. Yes the hitters face better pitching in the playoffs than they do over the full regular season. Same is true for the Nationals. The Astro offense has been too often too impotent. Jose Altuve is the only guy up from his regular season production rate. The other six offensive mainstays (Springer, Bregman, Brantley, Alvarez, Gurriel, Correa) are all waaaaay down. Time is running out to turn that around.

Faint silver lining of the moment: if the Astros are to win this World Series they'll do so at home.

Where does he rank?

After Altuve's thrilling pennant winning home run vs. the Yankees, I wondered via Tweet whether Altuve now ranks number two in the Houston sports legend pantheon. Talking about greatness, ensuring status in the city forever. Is Altuve now ahead of Earl Campbell? There is no definitive right answer. Your response may be influenced by your age and/or by which sport you prefer. Recency bias can influence. Hakeem Olajuwon remains the very clear number one. No disrespect to individual sport athletes, but they're not relevant to this discussion. Apologies to Simone Biles and Carl Lewis, but cities don't swoon over and revere individual sport athletes.

Ugly situation

Infinitely less fun questions that came out of the AL winning celebration: How big of a jerk is now former Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman? Or was it just one egregiously vile but not truly character defining moment? Sometimes one strike and you're out. Taubman's behavior was abhorrent and obviously fireable. How despicable was the Astros' handling of the situation? Very.

The Astros win a lot of games. President of Baseball Operations Jeff Luhnow has built a phenomenal baseball organization. It doesn't mean their poop doesn't stink. An amazing level of arrogance had Astros' upper management think theirs doesn't. Taubman was part of Luhnow's inner circle. That Luhnow didn't say anything until Wednesday was weak. His press conference content Thursday was in parts apologetic, embarrassing, and contemptible.

The Astros' first statement, their smear the messenger piece of garbage, was a disgrace. Taubman's apology line "if anyone was offended" was a disgrace. Many wrongs can be righted at least in part. The Astros righted theirs in part with their subsequent "real" investigation (with MLB leaning hard) and apology to Sports Illustrated, SI writer Stephanie Apstein, and others involved. Taubman will have to seek his redemption elsewhere.

When asked about the situation Tuesday before game one, Manager A.J. Hinch spoke briefly with the decency and dignity that escaped several others in the organization.

Slow start

What should be a compelling Rockets' season got underway with a thud Thursday night, a 16 point second half lead blown in a Toyota Center loss to Milwaukee. For the second straight offseason the Rockets did nickel-dimey stuff in filling out their roster, but it's a strong club that given generally good health from the mainstays should win a bunch (50+) of games. That is unlikely to culminate in an NBA Championship since the defense is unlikely to be elite and they'll mix in enough brick-laden three point shooting games to come up short.

Russell Westbrook is one of the worst three-point shooters in NBA history. Inside three weeks of turning 31 years old he's not going to suddenly become a good three-point shooter, but Westbrook is a one man fast break like the Rockets have never had, and the relentless passion and intensity with which he plays are compelling. That Harden fella should amass some pretty stout numbers again.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. I'm not into karma, but if the Astros lose the Series, man are a whole bunch of people going to be thinking just desserts. 2. Justin Verlander being the only pitcher with an 0-5 World Series record doesn't seem fair. Who says sports are fair? 3. Toughest to name state capitals: Bronze-Kentucky's Silver-Missouri's Gold-Maine's

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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