The Cleveland Indians had one runner advance past first base tonight, making a last-ditch plea for the front office to acquire a new bat ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Justin Verlander certainly played a big role in the Indians’ struggles at the plate, but the Tribe barely made the Astros starter break a sweat, dropping the series opener to Houston, 2-0.
With Verlander, the American League’s All-Star Game starter, and Shane Bieber, the American League’s All-Star Game MVP, on the mound, the stage appeared set for a classic pitcher’s duel. The difference in the game was that Verlander was far more dominant and the Astros’ lineup was far more effective at putting the ball in play, getting on base, and scoring runs.
Against Verlander, the Tribe put just 10 balls in play, reaching base on two of them and failing to score a single run. The Astros ace racked up 13 strikeouts and walked none. He was virtually unhittable for most of the night. Granted, Verlander is a very good pitcher, but no contending team should look this overmatched against a potential playoff opponent.
It certainly will do nothing to dispel the narrative that the Tribe has feasted on mediocre pitching as they’ve clawed their way back into the race for the AL Central.
Shane Bieber did his best to keep pace with Verlander but stumbled in the fifth inning, first surrendering a solo home run to Robinson Chirinos to break the scoreless tie.
Then, with two outs, José Altuve shot a sharp grounder down the third base line past José Ramírez, who looked like he should have been able to field it but misjudged the bounce of the ball. As a result, Altuve ended up in scoring position with a double. The Astros’ left fielder followed with a line shot into right field that Tyler Naquin appeared to scoop, but the umpiring crew ruled it an RBI single. It was challenged and the replay crew somehow confirmed the call despite zero indisputable video evidence, leaving the Tribe trailing 2-0.
That would prove to be more than enough for the Astros.
Bieber delivered a solid outing overall, scattering nine hits over seven innings of work and striking out eight. But the Indians’ lineup gave him nothing in return for his efforts. Even with Verlander out of the game for the final two innings, the Tribe failed to reach base, let alone score.