2. July 6, 2018, vs White Sox
For the next brilliant McCullers start, we have to travel back to a period before he started growing out his glorious locks, and when Majestic was the official uniform supplier of MLB instead of Nike: not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but it still feels that way. This start was special for McCullers because it was the day that he set his career-high in strikeouts in a single game. Missing bats wasn’t the only thing he did right in this outing against the rebuilding White Sox either.
In front of a near-sellout crowd on a Friday night, he went 7 innings and threw 93 pitches, allowing just 3 hits, 4 hard-hit balls per Statcast, and 0 walks. Not walking anybody in 7 innings is already impressive, but the most important stat of this performance: 12 strikeouts. McCullers hasn’t struck out 12 batters in a start since. He allowed all 3 of those hits against consecutive batters in the 6th inning, and all 3 were singles. He got Jose Abreu to ground into an inning-ending double play, however, to limit the damage.
Houston had a 3-1 lead by the time McCullers exited the game, but they completely blew the doors off the White Sox bullpen, scoring a run in their half of the 7th and an additional 7 runs in the 8th. Every starter in their lineup reached base at least once, so they more than rallied around McCullers’ dominant outing.
Unfortunately, this performance came right before a tough time in his career. Following this night, he would make just 4 more starts in the 2018 season before an elbow problem reduced him to a bullpen role at the end of the year, including the postseason. Not too long after the Astros got bounced out of the 2018 ALCS by the juggernaut that was the Boston Red Sox, he would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2019 season in which his team won 107 games.