Just as it seems the formerly erratic Framber Valdez has become a bedrock of consistency, a new pitcher has emerged to claim the mantel of inconsistency once owned by Valdez.
Lance McCullers was brilliant, striking out 11 batters tonight, but he also walked four. In 34.2 innings pitched this season, McCullers has walked almost as many hitters (19) as have gotten hits (25). His ERA, 2.20, is impressive despite a WHIP at 1.33, but his peripheral stats are around 4.00. He has been helped by a low HR/9 rate of 0.63, and a left-on-base % at an unsustainable 88.1%.
Shades of old Framber.
Still, McCullers keeps runs from crossing the plate, and the Astros keep winning when he is on the mound.
Tonight, runs were few and far between for both teams tonight in the early going, as each team could manage only two runs against their opponent’s starter.
The Astros scored first on a two-out double crushed by Yordan Alvarez to deep center field scoring Chas McCormick.
But the A’s got the lead on McCullers in the fourth with the help of a characteristic bout of wildness. Sean Murphy opened the inning with a double, followed by a Seth Brown walk. With one out, McCullers loaded the bases by walking Stephen Vogt, followed by a two-run Dermis Garcia single.
It was all the A’s would score on McCullers. It was another low run-total game, albeit against a poor-hitting team, but the old McCullers bugaboo, lack of command, was also fully on display. In six innings McCullers only allowed two runs and had 11 strikeouts, but walked four. Out of 99 pitches, McCullers managed only 59 strikes.
The Astros tied the score in the bottom of the fourth when Christian Vazquez doubled home Trey Mancini.
The Astros' offense broke out in the seventh, starting with an infield single by Jeremy Pena followed by an Aledmys Diaz home run.
The Astros scored another run starting with a sharp Yordan Alvarez single to left-center, an Alex Bregman hit by pitch, and an RBI single by Kyle Tucker that was an exact replica of the Alvarez single.
The Astros bullpen once again made scoreless innings look routine, as Seth Martinez, Will Smith, Hector Neris, and Rafael Montero combined to shut down the A’s after McCullers’ departure in the sixth.
Tomorrow, Justin Verlander takes the mound for the first time since coming off IL. Game time is 7:10 CT.