Justin Verlander with the Houston Astros – is it the right recipe?
The last thing that the other teams in the American League with World Series aspirations wanted to see was the Houston Astros acquire Verlander. With only hours to spare before the month of September started, the fears of other teams soon manifested into reality with the Astros acquiring decorated pitcher Justin Verlander in a trade with Detroit Tigers this past Thursday evening, just beating the deadline to acquire players and have them eligible for postseason play.
As recently as a few years ago, the six-time All-Star and perennial Cy Young candidate was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball. But just a year after signing his seven-year, $180 million contract extension which briefly made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history Verlander’s play began to decline, as his command suffered as a result of nagging injuries that seemed to continually plague him.
But fans rooting for other teams in the American League shouldn’t take much solace in that, considering that after starting the 2017 season with more of those same struggles, he has looked very much like the Verlander of old this summer, thus potentially providing the Astros with a lethal postseason addition. Over Verlander’s past 11 starts, he’s had an 2.31 ERA and .253 opponents’ weighted on-base average, both of which are fifth among starters (minimum 50 innings) over that span.
The move, in and of itself, looks like it will automatically address one of the biggest issues the team has faced in recent weeks: the starting pitching rotation. While the Astros still have the fifth-best ERA (4.14) in the American League as a team, they rank 19th in ERA in the major leagues since the All Star break (4.89). More importantly, that number is dead last among all teams that also have legitimate aspirations of a prolonged postseason run. Anyone who watches baseball is very familiar with the adage that pitching counts the most come playoff time, and the Astros gaudy win total and run differential in the regular season won’t mean anything if they can’t stop teams from scoring when it counts the most.
But just as important as the actual pitching performances they’ll get from Verlander is the fact that his addition adds another positive jolt of energy for the Astros, as the team enters the final weeks of the regular season. The injury-ravaged Astros were already starting to put the pieces of the team that essentially wrapped up the AL West race earlier this summer back in place. Ace Dallas Keuchel has had three very strong outings in the month of August, despite what his won-loss record (2-4) might otherwise indicate.
Carlos Correa, Will Harris and Lance McCullers Jr. are all at Triple-A on rehab assignments, and close to returning back to Houston’s lineup. Third baseman Alex Bregman shined during an otherwise gloomy month of August in Houston, as he’s closing in on a 20-20 season with 16 home runs and 15 steals entering September.
Sports history tells us that teams who storm out to such crazy margins early in the season find it increasingly difficult to flip the proverbial switch back on, and climb back to that level of play which helped them build such enormous cushions. Sports history tells us that so much of a player and team’s performance is about momentum, and “getting hot” at the right time. Teams need good things to happen at the right time.
Adding Verlander to what still looks to be the best team in the American League could be the boost that helps this team flip the let’s do it switch and energize itself deep into October.