Rangers relying on a shaky Game 4 starter of their own in Tommy Hunter

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Lost in the various teeth-gnashing over Joe Girardi sticking with A.J. Burnett for tonight is that the Rangers are turning to a less than stellar Game 4 starter of their own in Tommy Hunter.

On the surface Hunter’s numbers this season look great, as he went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 23 starts, but a deeper look reveals a pitcher the Yankees have a very good chance of teeing off on.

Hunter served up 21 long balls in 128 innings, which works out to 1.5 homers per nine innings. Among all the AL pitchers who threw at least 120 innings this season only Javier Vazquez and Brian Bannister had a higher home run rate. And he’ll be facing a Yankees lineup that was one of just three MLB teams to smack 200 or more homers this season.

Beyond his overall difficulty keeping the ball in the ballpark Hunter is like most right-handed pitchers in that he’s far worse against left-handed batters than right-handers batters, and seven of the nine hitters in the Yankees’ lineup tonight will be swinging from the left side.

During his 250-inning career left-handed batters have hit .285 with an .832 OPS against Hunter, compared to .241 with a .678 OPS by right-handed batters. Not surprisingly in two previous starts against the Yankees he’s 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, allowing seven runs on 14 hits in 9.1 innings. He also lasted just four innings against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, taking the loss.

Burnett has been horrible for months now, so there’s a good chance he’ll be horrible tonight, but his struggling would hardly guarantee a Rangers victory. Hunter is a run-of-the-mill back-of-the-rotation starter whose great-looking record this season is due largely to excellent run support and the Yankees present a particularly tough matchup for a right-handed pitcher who struggles versus left-handed power bats. New York may not be able to out-pitch Texas tonight, but out-slugging them is still very possible.

Astros name Justin Verlander ALCS MVP

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Following the Astros’ decisive 4-0 shutout over the Yankees on Saturday night, the team crowned ace Justin Verlander the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series. Hall of Fame outfielder and former MLB manager Frank Robinson handed the award to Verlander, who was beaming as he thanked his teammates and members of the Astros’ organization.

“I’ve got to say, it came down to the wire, and one thing kept going off in my head was Dallas,” Verlander told the crowd gathered at Minute Maid Park. “When he called me, he said that I won’t regret my decision to join the Houston Astros. And here we are right now, it’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve got four more wins to win a World Series, and I do not regret my decision to come here. This is the best feeling a player can have. So, thank you.”

Among a cast that boasted the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, among others, Verlander was spectacular. He locked down a complete game win in Game 2, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits and a walk and striking out a postseason-high 13 batters. In Game 6, he saved the Astros from elimination with seven scoreless innings, helping propel the club to their eventual 7-1 finish that set up their series-clinching finale on Saturday.

The 34-year-old righty also took his place among some postseason greats. Thanks to an eight-strikeout outing on Friday night, his collective 136 postseason strikeouts are good for sixth-most in MLB playoff history, just a smidgen shy of Tom Glavine (143), Mike Mussina (145), Roger Clemens (173), Andy Pettitte (183) and John Smoltz (199). He also joined Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Sandy Koufax as one of just four hurlers to strike out 20+ Yankees in a postseason series.