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Astros Fall in Fifth Straight to Tigers 6-4

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McCullers credited with six runs in 3.2 innings. Astros strand six in last two innings

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of four critical starters to COVID for tonight’s game seemed to make little difference to the Astros fortunes. They lost the four games prior to their departure. And they lost the first game after their departure.

Actually, the margin of defeat was slightly less in the first game since the big guns’ departure, so maybe that’s progress.

No. No it’s not.

First, another major pitching fail. Lance McCullers was credited with allowing six runs in only 3.1 innings. He gave up three in the second on an Akil Badoo double (who is this kid), a fielder’s choice grounder to Niko Goodrum, and a Robbie Grossman RBI single.

He got blamed for three more runs in the fourth, but some would dispute the justice of that claim. True, he loaded the bases with two outs with a single, a walk, and a hit by pitch.

He might have gotten out of it. After all, his next opponent was Jeimer Candelario, whom he had struck out twice earlier. But Dusty Baker gave McCullers the hook in favor of Joe Smith. Smith promptly allowed two singles scoring three runs, all attributed to McCullers.

Dan 410 warned us yesterday, “that there’s no panic button in April.” When it comes to Joe Smith there sure is. Against 21 batters faced this year he has allowed eight hits, a walk, and five earned runs. The three he allowed tonight don’t count.

But even more depressing is the weak hitting and missed opportunities by the Astros offense. Down 6-3, with the bases loaded in the eighth inning with one out and the tying run on base, Abraham Toro hit into a double play. No runs

Even worse, in the bottom of the ninth the first three batters again loaded the bases on two walks and a Myles Straw single.

Detroit reliever Bryan Garcia got a strikeout on Aledmys Diaz, and then got a flyout from Michael Brantley. Yuli Gurriel did manage an RBI walk, but Kyle Tucker ended the game looking at strike three.

It was an ugly game for Tucker, who was 0-5, and left nine runners on base. His pounding the bat after an ignominious pop-up is becoming an all too familiar spectacle.

On the other hand, Yuli Gurriel continues his assault on Ted Williams’ record of being the last hitter to top .400. His two hits tonight leave him far ahead of Williams’ .408, at .429 for the season. He had another two RBI, including an RBI single in the sixth.

Keep it up Yuli.

(Just kidding about the record in case anyone wondered)

Besides the ninth inning run the only other scoring for the Astros was a two run monster mash to center field by Jason Castro, his second of the year. They were the only runs the Astros could muster against the Tigers’ winning pitcher, Michael Fulmer.

After the meltdown by Joe Smith, the bullpen performed flawlessly, with 2.1 scoreless frames by Brandon Bielak, and one each by Ryne Stanek, Brooks Raley, and Ryan Pressly.

The Astros mercifully have the day off tomorrow, when they can hopefully lick their wounds and regroup.

Oh yeah, here’s something nice. Ronnie Dawson, brought up to help replace the COVID protocol victims, got his first major league hit. What joy.

Box score and videos HERE.