Other Astros pitchers have pitched more games, have more wins, have accumulated more WAR wearing the rainbow uniform, but no pitcher in Astros History is more consequential than Justin Verlander. The reason is simple. Without Justin Verlander the Astros would not have won the World Series, nor would they have won two AL pennants in his three years.
That’s one more World championship than the Astros had won in its entire history, and one more league championship too.
Let’s look at Verlander’s career with the Astros.
After joining the Astros on August 31st, 2017, Verlander went on a tear for the rest of the season, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA. But that’s not why he Astros got him from Detroit. They got him to win playoff games. And that’s what he did.
In the 2017 ALDS he won two of the three games for the Astros in their series with the Red Sox. But his real glory came in the ALCS, a hard fought series with the Yankees that went seven games. The Astros bats went rather quiet in that series, and it was the pitching of Verlander that made the difference.
In Game 2 Justin Verlander may have pitched the greatest playoff game in Astros history. It’s hard to imagine any other pitcher putting the Astros in the win column on this day, a 2-1 win in which Verlander got a complete game with 13 strikeouts.
Here’s what happened to one Yankee that day.
In Game 6 Verlander pitched a seven inning shutout for the win, striking out eight.
It’s not just the games that Verlander won that decided the series with the Yankees. It’s the added depth he gave the whole staff. Who can forget Lance McCullers getting the save in Game 7, throwing 24 straight curves. Who would have done that if McCullers had been forced into the rotation? The ripple effect of having Verlander for 16 innings in the series can’t be calculated but is no doubt huge.
Verlander did not win a game in the 2017 World Series, another series that went seven games. The pitchers in this series complained of a slick ball which prevented sliders from biting, and this series was a monumental slugfest. Verlander did not get the win in his first appearance in Game 2, leaving the game after six innings behind in the score 3-1.
The Astros seemed beat going into the eighth inning. That’s when Justin came out of the clubhouse and said this.
The Astros scrabbled together a run in the eighth inning after Justin’s pep talk, and in the ninth Marwin Gonzalez had one of the most consequential hits in Astros History, taking Kenley Jansen yard to tie the game in the ninth, a game the Astros went on to win in extra innings.
Even if Verlander didn’t record a win in this wild and wooly, back and forth World Series contest, no one could have replaced the 12 effective innings he provided an otherwise shell-shocked staff. Without Verlander would Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton, or anyone nearly that good, have been around in Game 7 to hold the Dodgers to one run in the rubber match that decided the World championship?
Obviously not. No Verlander, no trophy, no pennant.
In 2018 the Astros succumbed to the Red Sox for the AL pennant, but in the two playoff series Verlander won two games and lost one.
In 2019 Verlander started the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, a series in which the Astros scratched out a 3-2 victory en route to another ALCS matchup with the Yankees. He pitched another brilliant playoff game for the ages, shutting out the Rays for seven innings, allowing only one hit with eight K’s. As the Rays manager said after the game, “we just got Verlandered.”
It was a tough series for the Astros bats, and Manager Hinch felt the need to use Verlander in Game four on short rest. He did not pitch well, leaving in three innings and taking the loss, and he may not have fully recovered for the rest of the playoffs.
Nonethless, Verlander got a no decision in a victorious Game 2 of the ALCS, allowing only two runs in a series the Astros took in six games. However, Verlander pitched tired the rest of the playoffs, losing another ALCS game, and both of his World Series starts. In these last three games Verlander pitched 16 innings and allowed 11 runs, a 5.50 ERA.
Was this a precursor to the arm problems that have likely ended Verlander’s Astros career. Could the game on short rest have caused the entire cascade? Speculation of course.
In 2+ season with the Astros Justin Verlander was phenomenal. In 74 starts, 477 innings, Justin won 43 games with a 2.45 ERA. In both 2018 and 2019 he led the league in starts, and in 2019 led the league in innings pitched. He had 640 strikeouts, leading the league in 2018 with 290. He also led the league both years in WHIP and strikeouts/walk, a testament to his unique blend of power and finesse.
Justin was second in Cy Young voting in 2018, and won the award last year, his second at age 36.
And of course, who can forget his no hitter last year, the third of his Hall of Fame career.
The departure of Verlander from consideration for any action this year makes Astros success in this year’s playoffs the longest of long shots. And with the expected loss of George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Yuli Gurriel from next year’s roster, the Astros look decidedly mediocre going into 2021 without the Ace to anchor the rotation.
Thank you Justin Verlander. You gave us your best. Your best was awesome, truly historic, and it gave us the only World Series win Astros fans have ever known.
The glory years of the Astros. They’re the same as the Verlander years.