THE PALLILOG

Yordan Alvarez impresses early, brutal ending for Warriors

Yordan Alvarez impresses early, brutal ending for Warriors
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Image

All dynasties end. If the Golden State Warriors' dynasty is done, what a brutal ending. Kevin Durant's ruptured Achilles followed in the next game by a torn ACL for Klay Thompson? Stunning and sad. Even those bitterly envious of the Warriors' success the last five seasons should feel so. The Western Conference is now clearly ripe for the picking by the Rockets or someone other than Golden State next season.

Will Kawhi stay?

Full credit to the Toronto Raptors. A deep and versatile team (with exactly zero lottery picks on the roster) led by Kawhi Leonard earned the NBA title. Now, does Kahwi re-up in Canada or head home to California and sign with the Clippers?

Alvarez looks the part

If you're an Astros fan Yordan Alvarez's big league debut this week was exciting stuff. In his first game a missile launch of an opposite field homer then in his second a flick of the wrist homer to right on a pitch below the strike zone. Alvarez will have his struggles, but his raw power is awesome, his left-handed swing is easy looking, and he is not a swing at anything guy.

The Astros don't think Alvarez can play a competent first base, yet at least. It would be nice if he could because when the Astros are healthy, among the everyday players Yuli Gurriel has been the weakest lineup link this season. With first base not in the cards for him in 2019, Alvarez primarily slots at designated hitter with an occasional start in left.

One dreamy comparison for Alvarez is late Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. A six foot six inch left-handed monster who played left field early in his career before settling in as a first baseman. McCovey finished with 521 home runs en route to Cooperstown. McCovey wore number 44 his whole big league career. Interesting that the Astros gave Alvarez the number 44 jersey. As of now anyway that means no retirement of 44 for Roy Oswalt, who merely had the greatest Astro pitching career in franchise history.

Of the players prior to Alvarez who homered in their Astro debut game, only Ken Caminiti had what could be called a good career. In 2003 Dave Matranga homered in his first big league plate appearance. It was his only big league hit.

Hall of Fame DNA

Teoscar Hernandez was an Astro when he homered in his first MLB game in 2016. He's having a horrible season with the horrible Toronto Blue Jays who are in town for a three game series. Hernandez is not the player with a Houston connection of interest to many this weekend. That guy is Cavan Biggio, son of Craig. He's scuffled since getting the call up last month, batting only .185, but he hit two homers Thursday and has shown excellent plate discipline drawing 12 walks in just 57 plate appearances. Unlike his Hall of Fame father, Cavan bats left-handed.

The Jays' phenom prospect to watch is Vladimir Guerrero Junior. son of another Hall of Famer. Pretty much universally regarded as the best hitting prospect in the game coming into the season, the 20 year old Vlad Jr. has picked it up after his own slow start. Vlad Sr. looked chiseled out of granite. Vlad Jr...let's say he evidently likes to eat. A lot. He and the Jays should be worried about getting and keeping his body right.

Allegations against Texans

One of the worst allegations that can be made against an individual is being called racist. That is what fired Texans' security coordinator Jeff Pope has done in filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Texans claiming that fired Texans' General Manager Brian Gaine systemically targeted African-American employees for termination.

This gets out just days after the Texans' fired Gaine. The Texans say they knew nothing about the allegation ahead of dumping Gaine less than a year and a half into his five year contract. Coincidences certainly happen.

At least one person is despicable here. It could be an embittered former employee with a fallacious claim. It could be Gaine. If it turns out there is fire behind the smoke and the Texans knew anything about this, and then Cal McNair in his statement announcing Gaine's dismissal called him "a man of high character," oh boy.

Meanwhile the Texans face tampering charges from the New England Patriots over the Texans' interest in hiring Nick Caserio away for the Pats to succeed Gaine.

All this stuff may just run its course and that's that. At the moment however the Texans have multiple looks of a sorry soap opera.

Buzzer Beaters: 

1. By 2021 the Astros could have three young left-handed hitting studs in their lineup: Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Seth Beer. Without any contract extensions Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, and George Springer, all become free agents after next season. 2. I laugh when the world's best golfers whine about how tough the course layout is at the U.S. Open. 3. Best sports trophies: Bronze-Borg-Warner (Indy 500 winner) Silver-Heisman Gold-Stanley Cup

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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