I think I can speak for the entire baseball world when I say: thank you to the Detroit Tigers for pulling off an impressive three game sweep of the Houston Astros. This series started off with the storyline of former Astros’ manager AJ Hinch returning to Houston for the first time since being fired and suspended for his role in the 2017 sign stealing scandal.
Questions that came to my mind were: how would Hinch’s former players respond to his return and which side had more to prove? Once the first pitch was thrown, the Tigers quickly stole the spotlight and changed the narrative led by a group of young stars looking to prove their team is dangerous and needs to be given more respect. Add an unexpected COVID-19 scare to the mix and this series became more interesting than ever expected.
Tigers vs. Astros
The first two games were completely one sided. Detroit outscored Houston 14-4 in those contests and received some powerful help in the form of a barrage of long balls. Seven home runs were launched in this stretch, including two each from C Wilson Ramos and rookie sensation CF Akil Baddoo. This was all in support of starters Matthew Boyd and Casey Mize, who combined for 13 ⅔ innings pitched allowing one run on 10 hits and striking out nine Astros.
The fact that both players went deep into the game and kept a dangerous Houston lineup in check gave their bullpen much needed rest, as only five pitchers were used (one outing each). Mize’s performance was particularly impressive, as he outdueled Zack Greinke, who lasted only 4 ⅔ innings, surrendering three towering home runs. It was clear the Tigers were the more focused and prepared team and that momentum would carry over into the series finale.
Covid Scare For the Astros
However, before we talk about how the Tigers would continue flexing their muscles in the finale, everyone’s concerns with the Astros were quickly flipped when it was reported that five Houston players were placed on COVID-19 injured list. The team announced that 2B Jose Altuve, SS Alex Bregman, C Martin Maldonado, DH Yordan Alvarez and infielder Robel Garcia were placed on the list.
There has been no confirmation about any of those players testing positive, but all reports indicate that the league was simply following the health and safety protocols put in place to keep players safe. More details to come later, so please stay tuned. I wish all five players nothing but the best and pray for a quick return to action.
This news forced manager Dusty Baker to turn to his bench and suddenly the lineup had a new look. Aledmys Díaz (2B), Abraham Toro (3B) and Ronnie Dawson (DH) suddenly found themselves thrusted into the starting lineup. They proceeded to combine for one hit in 10 at bats and knock in zero runs, leaving 10 runners on base. Clearly, Houston was missing it’s big bats that have helped them reach the ALCS each of the last four years.
Tensions Are High
However, once again, it was the Tigers that jumped out to a blazing hot start. They scored three runs in both the second and fourth innings to build yet another 6-0 lead. Five Tigers combined to knock in runs, but the offensive attack was paced by 3B Jeimer Candelario, who finished with 3 hits and 2 RBI’s to lead his team in both categories. Starter Michael Fulmer won his first game in three years, but that early 6-0 lead almost disappeared, as Houston showed fight with a few late rally attempts.
Catcher Jason Castro got things started with a 2-run homerun, his second of the season, in the 5th. Those were the only runs Fulmer surrendered in his five innings pitched. 1B Yuli Gurriel added two more runs in the sixth and ninth innings to cut the lead to 6-4 and suddenly Tigers fans were nervous. Gurriel’s second RBI came via a bases loaded walk with two outs in the ninth and the drama only increased as Kyle Tucker stepped up next. That tension was extinguished, when reliever Bryan Garcia caught Tucker looking on a 0-2 94 MPH fastball to finish off his second save of the season and complete the sweep.
What’s Next For the Tigers & Astros?
The Tigers (6-6) will ride this wave of momentum into another tough AL West battle, as they will immediately begin a four game series against the Oakland A’s (5-7). Oakland rides a four game winning streak, as they sit 2.5 games behind the first place Seattle Mariners. Both teams have a lot to prove with several teams ahead of them in the division but as anyone who watches baseball knows all too well, any team can catch fire at any time of year and you cannot underestimate an underdog. For AJ Hinch, this sweep was a huge personal win because of how things ended in Houston, but only time will tell how this team will do in the playoff hunt as the season progresses.
The Astros on the other hand will have a much needed day off to regroup and hopefully gain some of their stars back from the COVID-19 list. However, that last scenario is not guaranteed, but regardless of who is penciled into Dusty Baker’s lineup, you cannot be outscored 20-8 in a three game series and be expected to win any games. Worse than that it was against an inferior opponent that only had three wins entering. Houston has lost five games in a row after starting the season looking like World Series contenders with a huge chip on their shoulder and the majority of the baseball world rooting against them.
Houston’s In Trouble
The first glaring issue is that their starters have only pitched in 57 of 107 innings this season. That is a bad formula to follow for long term success, just ask the 2019 or 2020 Boston Red Sox. All three starters in this series combined for 11 ⅔ innings pitched, allowing 17 runs on 21 hits, including six home runs. All three could not pitch past the fifth inning and while the nine relievers only surrendered three runs in 15 ⅓ innings to account for the rest of the outs, that is a ton of pressure to put on any bullpen. This is where Astros fans sorely miss Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
Offensively, where did the Astros home run production go from their red hot 6-1 start to the season. During that seven game stretch, they scored 51 runs with a personal record 15 home runs to help silence their critics. In their five game losing streak, they have only hit four. Three stars who have struggled mightily during this stretch are Yordan Alvarez (3-for-16), Alex Bregman (2-for-17) and Carlos Correa (3-for-16).
While those three look to get back on track, Yuli Gurriel’s .429 average and 18 hits are a welcome sight. He had a great series against the Tigers, finishing with seven hits in 11 at bats and knocking in 2 runs. What this offense cannot allow to continue is leaving 25 runners stranded on the basepaths and going 4 for 28 with runners in scoring position. Numbers like that will end your World Series dreams in an unpredictable pennant race.
What chance do you give the Tigers of earning a playoff spot? What are the chances Akil Baddoo wins rookie of the year honors in the AL? How will Houston fix it’s pitching problems? Which Astros star will bounce back in Seattle? Leave your predictions and thoughts below or on the CruelFan Facebook page!
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com