Derek Lowe had a solid start in the series finale at Minute Maid Park, but it was for naught as J.A. Happ shut down Cleveland’s bats and the Astros battered the bullpen as the Indians fell, 7-1. The loss in the rubber match gave Houston a series victory, but more importantly it knocked the Tribe’s record down to 37-34 as the Chicago White Sox (38-34) regained first place in the AL Central.
The game got off to a promising start for the Tribe. Jose Lopez led off the second with a double before advancing to third on Michael Brantley‘s groundout. Happ’s wild pitch to Shelley Duncan brought Lopez home to give the Indians a quick 1-0 lead as Lowe took a perfect game into the fourth inning.
Then the trouble started. Possible future Indian Carlos Lee gave the Astros their first baserunner with his two-out base hit in the bottom of the fourth, and he came around to tie the game two batters later on Chris Johnson‘s RBI single. Lee came through with an RBI hit of his own in the sixth to score Jed Lowrie, and Johnson scored from third as J.D. Martinez hit into a double play in the seventh to knock Lowe out of the game and give Houston a 3-1 advantage.
The Astros blew the game open in the bottom of the eighth. Nick Hagadone issued a leadoff walk to Jed Lowrie, which came back to bite him as Johnson took him yard for a two-run shot later in the inning. He gave up a two-out double to Jason Castro before handing the ball to Esmil Rogers to face Martinez, who promptly hit a two-run homer of his own.
Meanwhile, the Indians couldn’t touch Happ after the second inning. Three pitchers (Wesley Wright, Brandon Lyon, Xavier Cedeno) combined to shut the Tribe down in the eighth and Brett Myers closed it out in the ninth as Houston cruised to a 7-1 win.
The Good: Though he was stuck with the loss, it was actually a strong outing for Derek Lowe. He held the Astros to just three runs on eight hits and a walk in 6.2 innings, and though he got only one strikeout that’s what he’s been doing all year. Amazingly, 16 of the 20 outs he recorded were via the groundball, demonstrating that his slider was working just fine.
Casey Kotchman was the Tribe’s lone member of the multi-hit club Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles.
The Bad: J.A. Happ is not a very good pitcher. He entered Sunday’s game with a 5.15 ERA, having yielded 14 runs in as many innings over his last three starts. Yet he utterly dominated the Tribe, holding the Indians to one run on four hits across seven strong frames. The bats can’t just disappear every time a southpaw takes the mound if this team is to remain in contention for much longer.
Meanwhile, it was another really rough outing for Nick Hagadone. He’s now allowed nine runs on eight hits with five walks and three homers in his last three innings pitched (spanning four outings). The Indians need him to rebound to the dominant form he displayed before the calendar turned to June.
The “Huh?”: Starting at the hot corner for the Indians Sunday was not slick-gloved Jack Hannahan nor exciting youngster Lonnie Chisenhall. Rather, Manny Acta went with his third-string third baseman: Jose Lopez. Presumably this was to gain a platoon advantage against the southpaw Happ, as Lopez is right-handed while Hannahan and Chisenhall are both lefties. However, Hannahan and Chisenhall are both much, much better players than Jose Lopez. How much difference does Acta think the handedness actually makes?
Interesting Tidbit: Sunday’s outing lowered Derek Lowe’s career strikeout rate against the Astros to 4.2 K/9 (38 strikeouts in 82 innings pitched). That’s the lowest strikeout rate he has against any team he’s faced more than twice.