The Astros will hand the ball to veteran Justin Verlander as the club attempts to close out the 2019 World Series to win its second championship in three years. There are few pitchers in the game one would rather ask to pitch in such a situation. That being said, Verlander hasn’t had the best postseason so far and he is 0-5 in six career World Series starts.
The first inning has, in particular, proved difficult for Verlander this October. Across his five starts this postseason, Verlander has allowed 14 runs on 25 hits and 11 walks with 35 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. 11 of those 14 runs have come in the first inning: three to the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, four to the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALCS, and two to the Nationals in Game 2 of the World Series.
Manager A.J. Hinch doesn’t seem to be concerned about Verlander’s first-inning struggles. Per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Hinch said, “I’m not coming into the game with a lot of anxiety about J.V. in the first inning.”
Verlander has also been homer-prone in the playoffs, though it continued a theme from the regular season when he allowed a career-high 36 homers in 223 innings. He has surrendered six homers across his last 23 1/3 innings of work against the Rays, Yankees, and Nationals.
Verlander is opposing Stephen Strasburg, who is developing a Bumgarnerian reputation as a “postseason god.” Now with eight such starts under his belt, Strasburg sports a 1.34 ERA with 64 strikeouts and six walks across 47 innings. This postseason specifically, Strasburg has held the opposition to six earned runs on 25 hits and two walks with 40 strikeouts in 28 innings.
The Astros are asking a lot from Verlander tonight. But starts like this are why they acquired the future Hall of Famer from the Tigers more than two years ago. Based on how he has pitched to date, if Verlander can have a clean first inning, the Astros should be in good shape.