Astros rout the Rays in the series opener

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 15-1 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After a weekend sweep of the Angels before a day off on Monday, Houston was back in action on Tuesday to start a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. They entered the day half a game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League and a full game behind the Dodgers for the best overall record.

The series opener provided a terrific pitching matchup with Justin Verlander on the mound for the Astros going against former-teammate and fellow ace Charlie Morton. Here is how Tuesday's game unfolded:

Final Score: Astros 15, Rays 1.

Record: 86-47, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Justin Verlander (16-5, 2.69 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.11 ERA).

1) Houston holds no punches against Morton

In his first game in Minute Maid Park since the 2018 playoffs, Charlie Morton's former team did not great him with a smooth start on the mound. They started giving him grief in the bottom of the third, working two walks to start the inning. Josh Reddick scored the first run of the game with an RBI-double in the next at-bat, then the Astros loaded the bases with a hit batter.

Despite having the bases loaded with no outs, Houston would only get one more run out of it on a sacrifice fly by Jose Altuve to extend the lead to 2-0. They would continue to hit well against Morton in the bottom of the fourth, though, putting the first two runners on base for the second straight inning, setting up a two-RBI double by Yuli Gurriel.

Robinson Chirinos extended the lead by two more runs later in the inning by launching a one-out two-run home run to make it a 6-0 Houston advantage, and that inning would spell the end for Morton's night. Tampa Bay's bullpen did not fare any better, with Houston putting the first two runners on yet again, including Michael Brantley extending his hitting streak to 19 games, before a three-run dinger by Yordan Alvarez to extend the lead to 9-0.

2) Meanwhile, Verlander was ejected

While Charlie Morton was having a rough night, Justin Verlander was putting together another dominant start. He didn't allow a hit until the top of the third and had shut out the Rays through the first five. Up 9-0 in the top of the sixth, Verlander had words with the home plate umpire after what he believed to be a missed third strike turned into a one-out double on the next pitch.

That resulted in an ejection of Verlander, ending his night early and ending his streak of starts with 10+ strikeouts at seven games. His final line after being tossed: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 HPB, 4 K.

3) Astros keep scoring

Brad Peacock was quickly brought in and was able to finish off the sixth inning and keep Tampa Bay scoreless. Then, the Astros added to their lead in the bottom half by scoring five more runs on RBIs from Jake Marisnick, Aledmys Diaz, George Springer, along with another on an error, making it a 14-0 rout.

Peacock remained on the mound for the top of the seventh, and despite allowing a leadoff solo home run to put the Rays on the board and trim the lead to thirteen, was able to complete the inning. Yordan Alvarez pushed the lead back to fourteen runs in the bottom of the seventh, hitting his second home run of the night.

Collin McHugh was the next reliever for Houston in the game and provided a scoreless top of the eighth. The Astros failed to score a run in the bottom of the eighth, the first time since the second. Joe Biagini finished things off in the top of the ninth as Houston would crush Tampa Bay in the series opener.

Up Next: This series continues on Wednesday night with the middle game starting at 7:10 PM. It will be another intriguing pitching matchup with Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.29 ERA) on the mound for Tampa Bay going against Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.75 ERA) for Houston.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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