1) Which Justin Verlander Takes the Ball?
In his time wearing Astros’ orange, Verlander has somehow built a resume that invokes the question of which hat he will wear on his future Hall-of-Fame bust: Astros or Tigers? A 61-19 record, a 2.26 regular season ERA, a third no-hitter, a second Cy Young (with a third sure to follow), a climb to 12th on the all-time strikeouts list, and of course, a much-deserved 2017 ALCS MVP award after he backpacked the Astros past the Yankees with a microscopic 0.56 ERA in 16 innings pitched.
Since the 2017 ALCS? Verlander has recorded one playoff series with an ERA under 3.38: the 2022 ALCS.
In his eight starts since the beginning of the 2019 postseason, Justin Verlander is 2-4 with a 4.76 ERA. Were it not for arguably the greatest comeback in franchise history in Game 1 of the 2022 ALDS, his line would be even uglier at 2-5.
JV’s career World Series stat line is even more unsightly: 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA.
Even without the comeback narrative of a 39-year-old posting the numbers he did this season, one could make the case this was Verlander’s greatest season yet. The Cy Young is all but his. Add in the unprecedented nature of what he has done returning from injury to come back as the best pitcher in the sport at practically 40, and it’s an unfathomable feel-good story—the type that inspires a movie
But feel-good stories and movie scripts don’t hang pennants. Missing barrels, executing put away pitches, limiting walks and preventing runs hang pennants. Of the ‘Stros’ last eight playoff series with a healthy Verlander, they only had a legitimately shutdown Justin Verlander on the bump in one, albeit their most recently played.
Unless they win the World Series in a sweep, he’s all but assured to make at least two starts. With those remaining starts in his 2022 season, does Verlander answer the bell? If not, the ‘Stros may be going home empty-handed once again. But if he does, Union Station may need to make room for a second Commissioner’s Trophy. Now that, that would be a movie worth watching!