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Shakedown in Chicago

Stros Strike Again. Sox Succumb 10-0

MLB: Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Defense wins championships!

No, no, the best defense is a strong offense!

Forget all that football blather. These are baseball’s defending champions, the Houston Astros, and you can have it all.

You want defense?

How about a dominant 2 hit shutout. Justin Verlander baffled the hapless White Sox hitters for six innings, striking out 5. Relievers Joe Smith, Colin McHugh, and Ken Giles, just returned from back soreness, finished the job, combining for 3 perfect innings in relief.

Verlander is now 3-0 for the season, and his 1.10 ERA is third in the AL, right behind fellow Astros Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. Verlander’s six shutout innings extends the scoreless streak of Astros starting pitchers to 23 straight, going back to the first inning of Lance McCullers’ start last Tuesday against the Mariners. In the past 8 games the Astros starters are 4-1, with a 1.29 ERA.

You say you want offense?

For the second time this season the Astros broke double digits in scoring, mainly behind 2 doubles and 4 RBI by George Springer, and two home runs and 3 RBI by Carlos Correa. The Astros had 13 hits and every starter got on base at least once. In the last three games the Astros have scored 26 runs.

The Astros bats were quiet against White Sox starter James Shield until the 4th inning, when Yuli Gurriel opened the frame with a double just fair inside the left field foul line. Alex Bregman followed with another double down the right field line, scoring Gurriel. Brian McCann then singled Bregman home and advanced to second on a Marwin Gonzalez walk. Then, on the play of the game, George Springer doubled, plating McCann and Gonzalez from first. The throw to the plate got past the catcher and Springer, seeing the error all the way, never stopped running, sped towards home, and supermanned just ahead of the tag for a Little League home run.

The Astros would score four more in the sixth after a McCann walk, a Derek Fisher double, and a 2 run Springer double. Two batters later Carlos Correa would score Springer with an opposite field 2 run homer to right.

Correa would complete the scoring in the ninth with another home run, a solo shot to left, his fourth of the year. Correa leads the team in RBI with 17, one more than George Springer.

The Astros are now 14-7 and tied with the Los Angeles Angels for first in the Al West.

The second game of the series in Chicago against the White Sox is tomorrow, 6:10 PM.

Questions: Granted, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole came to Houston with pedigrees, but both had seen better days prior to their arrivals here. Charlie Morton, on the other hand, was never more than a journeyman at best. Yet these three pitchers lead the league in ERA, averaging less than a run per nine innings pitched. At age 35 Justin Verlander has arguably never pitched better than he has since arriving in Houston. Gerrit Cole too. And Morton. The question: Should Brett Strom get a bonus equal to the dollar value of the improved performance of these three pitchers (and others)? Is he the reason for this unbelievable success?

Second. Is it just me, or does Colin McHugh look unhittable? He too sports a gaudy ERA of 1.04, in 8 innings pitched. It’s almost obscene that he is not at least somebody’s #2 pitcher somewhere but instead he is relegated to mop up duty in ten run wins. Question: What is the future of Colin McHugh?