2017, Part One: Houston, we have a (sort of) problem . . .

The Astros own baseball at the All-Star break, but . . . but . . . but . . .

The Astros own baseball at the All-Star break, but . . . but . . . but . . .

If you predicted entering spring training that the Houston Astros would be a) the team to beat, and b) next to impossible to beat, they would have wrapped you in a straitjacket and sent you on a one-way trip to the Delta Quadrant. But when not rubbing its eyes over the Astros’ 1986 Mets-like ownership of the game thus far, baseball spent the first half of 2017 wondering about certain rule changes actual or to be, wondering whether the baseballs themselves were given shots of rocket fuel (total Show home runs in May and June: 2,161; or, one homer plus per game of Lou Gehrig’s former consecutive-games played streak), and wondering whether the unwritten rules needed to be overthrown post haste.

The Astros’ surprise ride crashes

Gomez falling as he tries to field Hosmer's quail becomes a metaphor for the Astros' heartbreaking division series fall.

Gomez falling as he tries to field Hosmer’s quail becomes a metaphor for the Astros’ heartbreaking division series fall.

The good news is that the Houston Astros have more than a pleasant future ahead of them. The bad news is that the present now hurts like hell after spending a season surprising just about everyone walking the earth.

“None of us were ready to go home when we came here at one o’clock today,” said Carlos Correa, the splendid rookie who’s already considered the soul of this team. “We were ready to keep playing. Unfortunately, we’ve gotta go home now and be ready for spring training.”

Dallas and the Astros nudge the Bronx Buttercups to one side

Keuchel was nobody's fool  Tuesday night . . .

Keuchel was nobody’s fool Tuesday night . . .

All around Astroworld you could hear a soft sigh of nervousness in the bottom of the seventh Tuesday night. If manager A.J. Hinch lifting Dallas Keuchel backfired, and the Yankees turned the Houston bullpen into steak, Hinch was going to be battered up one side and down the other as, well, as Matt Williams’s heretofore undetected disciple.

Yes, the Rangers, back from the dead, doing their yard work

Dallas Keuchel, learning the hard way how you can be sunk when your sinker can't be.

Dallas Keuchel, learning the hard way how you can be sunk when your sinker can’t be.

It may not be advisable to say it to Astros lefthander Dallas Keuchel’s face, of course. But yes, the Rangers are back from the dead. And if Wednesday night’s proceedings in Arlington were any indication, these Rangers would like nothing more than to leave those Astros—and everyone else in the American League West—for dead, too.

Joaquin Andujar, RIP: There was just one word . . .

Andujar, en route to helping beat the Brewers in the 1982 World Series . . .

Andujar, en route to helping beat the Brewers in the 1982 World Series . . .

“In baseball,” Joaquin Andujar once posited, “there’s just one word—you never know.” It was an expansion of a comment he’d once made to Sports Illustrated‘s Steve Wulf, in which he said his favourite English language word was “you never know.” For Andujar, who died at 62 Tuesday after a long battle with diabetes, his favourite English language word could also serve as the epitaph to his pitching career.

These days make a fellow proud to be an Astro

Altuve got to abuse one of his favourite patsies over the weekend . . .

Altuve got to abuse one of his favourite patsies over the weekend . . .

How good does it get for the Astros these days? Good enough, apparently, that a slowly swelling cabal of analysts think they—not the Yankees, not the Blue Jays, not the Royals—are the American League’s team to beat. They didn’t say that about the Astros in their best years in the National League.

Now, the Astros are a team that likes to go out on the town
We like to drink and fight and f@ck till curfew comes around
Then it’s time to make the trek
We’d better be back to buddy’s check
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

There’s just a little ill in these trade winds . . .

Spending at at least a year and a half as the subject of trade speculation, while insisting he really didn’t want to leave Denver, Troy Tulowitzki—swapped to the Blue Jays this week, for former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes—says he was blindsided almost completely by the deal. Apparently, he had a gentleman’s agreement with Rockies owner Dick Monfort that he wouldn’t be dealt without his prior knowledge and approval. Until he didn’t, of course.

Great Scott, Houston!

Hometown rental?

Hometown rental?

Unless you’re a Delta Quadrant citizen, you know that the Houston Astros aren’t just a little bit ahead of their rebuilding schedule, they’re so thick in the thick of this year’s pennant races that you could afford to talk about them in such terms as, “What they need most right now is a starting pitcher who belongs in the front end.” And if the Oakland Athletics were willing to part with one, the Astros weren’t leery about dealing for him Thursday.

Of Cardinal sinners and Royal stuffers

Is hacking for the Redbirds?

Is hacking for the (Red)birds?

Boys will be boys, in baseball and elsewhere, and grown men will be boys, too. But some of what the Show Me State’s boys and girls seem to be showing don’t seem to be the kind of thing you’d like showing.

If the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office isn’t facing an investigation into whether people therein hacked into the Houston Astros’ internal data networks, Kansas City fans are gleefully stuffing online All-Star ballot boxes in favour of the Royals regardless of whether the players in question deserve to be in the starting lineup.

Is there still trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line?

Joe Pepitone, young, haunted, a Yankee whose promise went unkept.

Joe Pepitone, young, haunted, a Yankee whose promise went unkept.

“There’s trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line,” was the title Bill Madden gave a chapter of his 2003 book Pride of October: What It Was to be Young and a Yankee. The title alluded to what Madden heard when he first called Pepitone at his Long Island home to arrange interviews for the book. Long before he struggled to reach the former first baseman, there was trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line. And there would be again, nine years later.