The Houston Astros were huge favorites—possibly one of the biggest of in MLB history—when they hosted the Detroit Tigers Wednesday night.
The Astros had one of the frontrunners in the American League Cy Young race on the hill and a .750 winning-percentage at Minute Maid Park this season.
The Tigers had an opener scheduled to throw just three innings, and Detroit planned to follow him with a reliever who entered the night with an ERA near seven.
Both pitchers the Tigers planned to “open” the game with were lefthanders, and the Astros were 27-8 against lefty starters this season—by far the best record in MLB.
The analytics and Vegas also had the Astros as major heavyweights.
According to FiveThirtyEight, today and tomorrow’s HOU-DET games are two of the most lopsided MLB games of all time.— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) August 22, 2019
They are two of four games since 1900 in which 538 gave a team an 80% chance of winning.
Since 1871, there have been 27 such games. Favored teams went 24-3
Houston closed at -600 at a couple Vegas shops ... Biggest MLB number ever— New York Knight® (@KB_NYK) August 22, 2019
But the last time the Astros had a huge advantage heading into a matchup, they didn’t live up to the expectations. Remember when they were one of the biggest favorites of all-time earlier this month against the Baltimore Orioles? In a game that Justin Verlander started, no less? Yeah, the Astros lost that one on a ninth-inning home run.
Well, they lost this one, too. On a ninth-inning home run.
However, it wasn’t really the late homer that cost the Astros this time. It was a punchless offense coupled with a malady of mistakes on the basepaths in the latter portion of the game that led to a defeat to baseball’s worst team.
First, the good: Verlander tossed a dominant and efficient nine innings reminiscent of Game 2 of the 2017 ALCS against the New York Yankees. His fastball and slider were working all night and he needed only 99 pitches, 75 of which were strikes, in his complete-game effort.
Justin Verlander, Filthy 86mph Slider (slow) pic.twitter.com/Rfyuz28qMH— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2019
Verlander struck out 11 and became the fifth pitcher in MLB history to record at least ten strikeouts in seven straight starts.
Pitchers to strike out 10+ in SEVEN STRAIGHT games— Jason Catania (@JayCat11) August 22, 2019
Justin Verlander (2019)
Chris Sale (2015, 2017)
Randy Johnson (2001)
Pedro Martinez (1999 2x!)
Nolan Ryan (1977)
Sale's streaks both were eight games of 10+. Pedro had an eight-game run and a seven-game run in the SAME year.
He’s also had really good control during that span, which led to another illustrious place in the record books tonight.
With 11 strikeouts and no walks tonight, this is Justin Verlander's 7th straight start with 10+ Ks and 2 or fewer walks.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 22, 2019
That's the longest such streak by any MLB pitcher in the modern era (since 1900).@astros #TakeItBack
Though Verlander allowed only two hits all game, unfortunately they were both solo homers, and that proved to be the difference between winning and losing. Verlander has now allowed 33 home runs this season, one behind Mike Leake for most in the Majors.
Again, Verlander wasn’t the problem Wednesday night. He didn’t allow a baserunner through the first 14 batters and only two Tigers reached base all night. Verlander’s fate was undeserved, and remarkably uncommon, given the magnificence of his outing.
Justin Verlander joins Rich Hill (2017) and James Shields (2012) as the only pitchers since 1908 to get a loss in a game with 9 IP, 10+ Ks, 0 BB and 2 or fewer hits allowed. #TakeItBack— StatMuse (@statmuse) August 22, 2019
The Astros’ offense, which produced just six hits—all coming from two players—against a team with one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball (5.12 team ERA, behind only Baltimore and Colorado), is to blame.
Even worse, when the Astros did generate traffic on the bases, they ended scoring threats with self-inflicted baserunning mistakes.
The Astros trailed 1-0 after five innings following a solo home run by Ronny Rodriguez that ended Verlander’s perfect start to the game. Robinson Chirinos tied things when he cranked a moonshot onto the train tracks to start the bottom of the seventh inning.
The blast was Chirinos’ third hit of the night and left him a triple shy of the cycle.
The game was still tied in the eighth and the top of the Astros’ order coming up in the bottom half of the inning.
Following a groundout by George Springer, Jose Altuve worked a full-count walk. Alex Bregman jumped ahead 3-0 and it looked like the Astros were in business.
What seemed like a massive advantage somehow turned into the worst imaginable outcome for the Astros.
Buck Farmer battled back to a 3-2 count on Bregman. Altuve took off on the full-count pitch and tried to advance to third on Bregman’s grounder to the shortstop. Bregman was called out (though it was questionable whether the first baseman’s foot was on the bag) and Altuve was ignominiously gunned down at third for the final out of the inning.
There’s minimal reward in trying to get third there, especially with rookie phenom Yordan Alvarez looming large on-deck and two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game. That’s yet another TOOTBLAN on Altuve’s ledger.
Naturally, John Hicks—the Tigers’ sub-.200 hitting catcher—crushed a fastball into the Crawford Boxes to regain the lead for the Tigers to start the ninth. Verlander retired the next three batters to keep the game at a one-run deficit.
Joe Jimenez came on for the save for the Tigers and struck out Alvarez and Gurriel for two quick outs. That brought up Chirinos, who hammered a 2-1 pitch past a leaping Travis Demeritte in rightfield.
Chirinos tried to extend his extra-base hit into a triple, which would give him the cycle, but a well-executed relay throw by the Tigers easily nabbed Chirinos at third to end the game in truly frustrating fashion for the Astros.
On a night that he was a perfect 4-for-4 from the plate and called a great game behind it, Chirinos lamented his final decision.
Jose Altuve made last out at 3rd n 8th & Robinson Chirinos did it n the 9th. Robinson:"That was a mistake running the bases.I should have looked to Gary at 3rd.I was running w/ my head down..That was bad base running for us..When u make a mistake like that u don't deserve to win" pic.twitter.com/tOaO0TTQ0m— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) August 22, 2019
The loss was the Astros’ first defeat to the Tigers this season (5-1). Verlander (15-5, 2.77), who was facing his former club for the fourth time, took the loss and Farmer (5-4, 3.74) earned the win for Detroit. Daniel Norris tossed three scoreless innings for the Tigers and Tyler Alexander threw four innings of one-run ball to lower his ERA to 6.03. Jimenez collected his fourth save of the season.
A second-inning double by Chirinos was his 16th of the season, which ties a career-high. His homer in the seventh was his 14th of the year. Springer was the only other Astro to record a hit, both of which were singles.
Box score and videos here.
The Astros finish their season series with the Tigers Thursday when Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.87) retakes the mound for the first time since August 7. He was scheduled to start eight days ago in the second game of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox but was scratched after experiencing discomfort in his right hamstring during warmups before the game (which was delayed by rain). Cole was on a roll prior to the injury, winning 10 straight decisions dating back to May 27 and allowing two runs or less in 13 of 14 starts in that span. Cole is 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA in six career starts against Detroit. He will be opposed by Tigers’ righty Jordan Zimmermann (1-8, 6.66). In his last start, Zimmermann threw five innings of shutout ball against Tampa Bay with five strikeouts and no walks, though he did not factor into the decision. Zimmermann, who finished in the Top 7 of the NL Cy Young race in 2013 and 2014 with Washington, has struggled with arm and back injuries this season. Prior to his most recent start, Zimmermann had allowed in five of his last six outings. He is 2-4 with a 3.51 ERA in eight career starts against the Astros. First pitch Thursday is slated for 7:10 CT.