When the Astros traded for Justin Verlander last August 31st, 11:59 PM, the legend was having a pretty poor season in Detroit. What happened next...well you know the story.
After starting 2018 challenging Bob Gibson’s 1968 ERA record, he began to regress, of course, but in August it looked like something more than regression, more like that 2017 Tiger, only worse.
In six games and 32 innings, Verlander gave up 19 earned runs, 9 home runs and compiled a 5.29 ERA. If I gave you a Stropoll and asked you who had those numbers, would you answer Justin Verlander, or Mike Fiers? (Whose ERA from 8-1 through 8-25 was 1.38)
And just in time. (Just in, see what I did there?) In three games and 21 innings in September he has allowed only four earned runs, one home run, only four walks and has 29 k’s. His ERA in September before today was 1.93, lower than that now after today’s magnificent one run performance against a tough NL playoff contender.
This is what pitching mastery looks like, mixing 80 MPH curves with 98 MPH fastballs, throwing his entire arsenal for strikes. He threw 71.4% of his curves and sliders for strikes, and 74.2 % of his four seamers. When a pitcher can throw that hard, throw three plus pitches with superb command, then he has something special going on.
For the record Verlander went seven innings, allowed one run on three hits, had eleven strikeouts, and only one walk. Out of 101 pitches Verlander threw 74 strikes, 24 of the whiff variety. The game score was an impressive 77. He struck out the first five batters he faced, and seven of the first nine.
His only run allowed was on a home run by David Peralta on a very good pitch, low inside fastball and nowhere near a meatball. Well good for him, even a blindfolded man might hit a home run if he had enough swings.
Nah, I don’t mean it. Good hitting Peralta, you hit the best.
Here’s Verlander dealing today.
That's one way to start the day. pic.twitter.com/XkoLUjJt8b— Houston Astros (@astros) September 16, 2018
With Charlie Morton showing similar dominance and command Saturday night, let us hope the Astros rotation is rounding into the same form for the post season that it showed in the early part of this season.
Even with great pitching you still gotta score to win. The Astros have scored fifteen runs in these last two home games, five today.
Another player who seems to be rounding into playoff form is George Springer, who was 2 for 3 today, and has been 9 for 17 in his last four games. He’s looking like a true lead off hitter, all the hits are singles and he has scored seven runs in those four games. But we all know, when George makes contact, the power will come.
The Astros scoring began in the first inning when Springer and Jose Altuve opened the game with back to back singles putting Springer on third. An Alex Bregman double play short circuited the rally but scored the first run.
The D-Backs would tie the game on the aforementioned Peralta homer in the sixth, but the Astros would answer with one of their own in the bottom of the inning when Tyler White doubled Springer home.
The Astros would add two more runs in the seventh with a Josh Reddick lead off home run and an Altuve RBI single which scored Tony Kemp.
The Astros would add an all-important and rather lucky insurance run in the eighth. Carlos Correa hit a blooper into shallow center that bounced off the second baseman’s glove and when he threw to second to get the advancing Correa, he overthrew. With no one covering third Correa advanced, the play scored a double an an error. Correa would score on a Martin Maldonado single.
All important insurance run because there was a minor bullpen meltdown in the ninth which almost nuked the victory. Although Ryan Pressly was perfect in the eighth, Colin McHugh gave up a walk and a single, and his replacement, Roberto Osuna then allowed a sac fly and a two run bomb to Daniel Descalso, to cut the Astros lead to one run. But Osuna then struck out Ketel Marte to end the game.
This was Justin Verlander’s 204th career win, and 16th of the year. He leads the league in strikeouts with 269, and with his eleven strikeouts today, has eleven games with ten or more K’s this season. His 269 strikeouts ties a career high for the 35 year old.
The Astros open their second to last home series against the stumbling and demoralized Seattle Mariners, losers today, whose season long hopes for a playoff berth are all but completely finished. Game time 7:10 CDT tomorrow.
Rookie lefty Framber Valdez (3-1, 2.66 ERA) will make his fifth career start. (sixth appearance) The Mariners, who swept four games from the Astros last month in Houston, will start lefty Wade LeBlanc (8-4, 3.56 ERA).
With the loss of the Oakland A’s to Tampa Bay today, the Astros now have a formidable 4.5 game lead over the A’s with 13 games remaining to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff seed is only 3 games, and for a second straight divisional championship, 9.
Box score and videos here.
Even in a playoff run the World Champions know how to keep it loose.