Before this series began, I would have said that the outcome depended on which Astros pitching rotation showed up. Every potential starter who might pitch in this series has shown flashes of excellence and, in every case, some stretches when they didn’t look like they belonged in the big leagues.
Yes, even Justin Verlander has thrown a few stinkers this year. But yesterday, his six-inning shutout was the kind of pitching performance the Astros need if they want to repeat for the Championship. Don’t take it for granted. They sure don’t in Los Angeles after watching Clayton Kershaw get absolutely demolished yesterday against Arizona.
It was a grind-it-out, thoroughly professional performance by Verlander yesterday. He did not have anywhere near his best stuff. He especially struggled with fastball command, an almost must-have for success against major-league hitters. But he used his guile and experience to work around it before he got zeroed in later in the game.
Verlander has had great success in Divisional and Championship series but not so much in the World Series. Let’s hope this part of the erratic Astros rotation can carry on all the way to another trophy.
Today, it’s Framber Valdez, probably the most consistent Astros starter this year. He’s thrown a no-hitter, but on three occasions, he’s given up six runs, including as recently as September 22.
In the last two seasons, if memory serves me correctly, the team with the first-round bye lost the first game of the Division Series three out of four times. Both years, the team that bucked the trend was the Astros, although last year, they were losing until the very last pitch.
Of course, the hero of that game was Yordan Alvarez with his three-run, walk-off homer. He was the hero (along with Verlander) in Game One of the 2023 ALDS as well, with two homers. Credit also to Jose Altuve for his 24th post-season homer on the first pitch of the game offered by the Twins.
The bullpen inherited a 5-0 lead yesterday. Then, this year’s most consistent reliever, Hector Neris, had a total meltdown, allowing four runs and two homers. But Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly held down the fort. Pressly’s appearance was particularly reassuring, as he hasn’t exactly been the picture of consistency himself this year.
Here are the lineups.