Last updated 3/10/2020 at Noon

Those who closely follow major league baseball are still scratching their heads and wondering why a team as talented as the Houston Astros would try to enhance their lofty position among the rest of the teams by electronically stealing the opponents’ catcher’s signs and notifying the Astros’ hitters as to what pitch is coming.

Even without knowing what pitch is coming, the 2017-19 Astros still would have won around 100 games and captured the American League West Division pennant because they had the best pitching staff compared to all other teams.

But Houston’s whole world collapsed after last season when MLB’s investigators uncovered proof-positive that the Astros did have knowledge of what the opposing pitchers were going to throw and made the batter’s aware of it.

MLB was urged by the other 31 franchises to confiscate the Houston Astros 2017 world championship but decided to let them keep the trophy probably because the league got a huge share of all the sports memorabilia signifying the Astros’ feat.

However, MLB did hurt the Astros by taking away their first and second-round picks in the upcoming 2020 major league draft, fined owner Jim Crane $5 million and suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for 2020.

Crane immediately got back most of that $5 million by firing both Luhnow and Hinch less than an hour later and saving their combined 2020 salaries.

So, with less than three months before spring training began, Crane had to find a capable field manager to replace Hinch and a general manager to replace Luhnow.

Crane went to baseball’s Old Man’s Home and found his new field manager in Dusty Baker, who had been idle for a couple of seasons and named him the Astros’ new manager.

A couple of weeks later Crane reeled in James Click as his general manager.

When spring training’s Grapefruit League began a couple of weeks ago, the Astros were harassed by the opposing teams’ knock-down pitches and their surly fans holding up signs reading “Shame on You, Astros” and just booing the players who were on the 2017 roster.

“Hall of Fame manager and longtime Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre downplayed the prospect of revenge-minded pitchers throwing at Astros hitters this season, saying he expects teams and players to focus on winning games rather than seeking retribution,” Torre was quoted as saying in Friday’s issue of the Houston Chronicle.

And in a more serious nature, families of those 2017 Astros players have received death threats and other harassing acts.

This season’s edition of the Houston Astros should have a much more difficult time of winning their division or perhaps even obtaining a post-season playoff berth with the MLB sanctions.

Odds are the team will have an impossible time finding a pitcher to replace Gerrit Cole and his 300-plus strikeouts and replacing the 40 victories from him and ace Justin Verlander.

Cole is now one-third of a billionaire thanks to his new team, the New York Yankees.

Despite Verlander having his own regimen of exercises between starts, he took himself out of a projected four-inning stint after two innings on Sunday with a sore arm.

Actually, Verlander’s premature exit was due to soreness in his right triceps during his second inning of work.

“We took him out as a precaution, and we sent him to go get some tests run just to make sure it’s nothing,” manager Dusty Baker was quoted by Monday’s edition of the Chronicle.

“We’ll just have to wait until the tests come back.” Results of the tests Monday afternoon divulged Verlander has a mild back strain but may not be ready for the season opener.

Verlander’s fastball was clocked between 91-93 mph Sunday on his 28 pitches in two innings.

Five days ago, against the St. Louis Cardinals, he threw 53 pitches in 2 2/3 innings with his fastball reaching between 93-95 mph.

with one of his last pitches reaching 97 mph.

Fortunately, it’s still early in spring training, but the start of the 2020 regular season is less than three weeks away.

KWICKIES...Grandson Logan “Smitty” Smith had another outstanding performance Friday, throwing 113 pitches in 7 innings and leaving the game as Army took a 6-3 lead into the ninth inning until their faltering bullpen blew his mound victory by allowing Western Michigan University five runs and an 8-6 Army loss.

The three earned runs Smitty allowed elevated his earned run average to 1.63 for 28 innings.

Logan’s next start will be Friday when his Black Knights meet the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at 1 p.m.

in the opener of a three-game series at Fort Myers, Fla.

Tyrell Hatton, a 28-year-old Englishman, won his first PGA Tour victory Sunday by playing bogey-free golf in the final seven holes to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla.

It was the fifth victory worldwide for Hatton who beat Marc Leishman by a single stroke.

The Houston Rockets’ slump escalated to four straight—three against sub-.500 opponents—Sunday by getting steamrolled by the Orlando Magic 126-106, The Rockets hoped to end the losing streak last night when they hosted Minnesota at the Toyota Center.

The No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears had their 58-game regular season Big 12 winning streak

snapped Sunday by Iowa State 57-56 at Ames, Iowa. The Lady Bears (28-2) last lost a regular- season conference game on Feb. 6, 2017 to Texas. Their only other loss this season was to

South Carolina in a Thanksgiving tournament.

Former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow was reassigned to the minor league camp by the New York Mets last weekend after going 2-for-13 in spring training with his first extra-base hit in four years when he hit a homer against Detroit’s Alex Ward on Feb. 25.

JUST BETWEEN US...March Madness begins next week after the 68-team field NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gets settled this weekend.

The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (28-3) ran away with the Southland Conference and is certain to have a berth for March Madness.

The first round of the SLC tournament begins today at Katy with the Lamar Cardinals playing McNeese State at 8:30 p.m.

after the 6 p.m.

contest between Northwestern State vs. A&M-Corpus Christi.

The second round tomorrow finds Sam Houston State facing the winner between Northwestern State-A&M- Corpus Christi at 6 p.m.

while the McNeese-Lamar winner takes on Nicholls State at 8:30 p.m.

SFA had byes through Friday’s semifinals and will meet the Sam Houston State-Northwestern State-A&M-Corpus Christi winner at 6 p.m.

and Abilene Christian will play the Nicholls State-Lamar-McNeese State winner at 8:30 p.m.

The championship game will feature the semifinal winners Saturday at 9:30 p.m.


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