The Houston Astros are headed home facing an elimination game after leaving Texas a few short days ago having full control of their destiny. They’ve surrendered that, though, in large part to a complete collapse of all facets and a young, hungry New York Yankees team who suddenly- and righteously- feels like the underdog.
But I still can’t root for them.
On Friday, their hopes rest on late-season acquisition Justin Verlander, who is no stranger to the postseason.
The former Detroit Tigers Cy Young Award and MVP winner has been through 6 trips to the playoffs. 2 of those culminating in advancing to the World Series. And while Verlander does sport a goose egg in the win column during the Fall Classic, he does sport a 4-2 record and 3.00 ERA in his 6 ALCS starts. His 13 strikeout, complete game victory in Game 2 was the stuff documentaries are made about years later. The 34-year-old veteran trying to reach for that golden moment one more time and shutting down the world’s most famous franchise- it really does sound like it’s made for Hollywood.
Overall, Verlander’s .952 WHIP ratio in his ALCS appearances is his best among the 3 levels of Major League Baseball’s playoffs. The Astros need him to continue that for one more game. Just like in 2011 when he took the mound at home against a Texas Rangers team that was up 3-games-to-1. Verlander went 7.1 innings that day, striking out 8 to secure the day. Texas would ultimately overcome the next game but it was Verlander answering the bell.
In 2012, he shut down the Yankees in his only start, going into the 9th only surrendering a solo shot to Eduardo Nunez in that final frame. Just like in 2013, when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-0 game with Boston Red Sox in Game 3 after giving up a solo shot to Mike Napoli.
Verlander is no stranger to pitching big when it counts. And that is exactly why the Astros traded a handful of prospects for him. The question is: will the rest of the Astros show up?
The downside of mentioning that 1-0 loss to the Red Sox is that to lose by that margin, the guys at the plate had to fail him. Miserably. Sure, tip your cap to the opposing pitcher, but this is the ALCS. Everyone’s supposed to be able to hit. The Astros haven’t done that at all this series and rode exceptional pitching from Dallas Keuchel and Verlander in games 1 and 2, respectively, to that 2-0 lead. Keuchel got knocked around for 4 runs in 4.2 innings in Game 5. The Astros also only managed 4 hits, and no player had more than 1. Indeed, that .125 batting average anomaly has to end. The Astros led the league in hitting by almost 20 points, OPS by 35 points, and OPS+ by 22.
The 2017 ALCS is truly riding on Verlander’s shoulders. If anyone with a bat wants to help, it would be greatly appreciated.