HOUSTON — Believe it or not, it’s been nearly three years since Astros ace Justin Verlander pitched in a postseason. That was in the 2019 World Series, when A.J. Hinch was still the manager, Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa were still his teammates, Verlander hadn’t yet undergone Tommy John surgery and the pandemic didn’t exist.
• ALDS Game 1: Today, 2:30 p.m. CT/12:30 PT on TBS
The three years between Verlander’s most recent playoff start — Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 29, 2019 — and his scheduled start in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Mariners on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park have been filled with obstacles, but Verlander emerged as good as he’s ever been.
Verlander, who missed the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery, made 28 starts this year. He was 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA — the lowest for a qualified AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez, who had a 1.74 ERA in 2000. Verlander is favored to win his third AL Cy Young Award, but a second World Series title is the immediate goal.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said. “I know what the atmosphere is going to be like. This crowd here's always great, especially in the playoffs. So hopefully we can feed off that, and just try to continue to pitch like I have all season.”
Verlander will be pitching for the first time in a week, which shouldn’t be unfamiliar to him. The Astros were cautious with his workload coming off surgery and he spent much of the season in a six-man rotation. Verlander made seven starts on least six days’ rest, posting a 0.63 ERA in 43 innings.
• Postseason ticket information: Mariners | Astros
“I think I'm just going to try to draw on some of my playoff starts before,” he said. “I know what to expect. It's going to be a little more adrenaline, a little more nerves, but you can use that to your advantage.”
In six starts against the Mariners this year, Verlander went 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA.
“They're a really good team,” he said. “They present a lot of difficulties. Their pitching staff is really good. Their lineup is really good. They never give in, as you saw in the series against Toronto. They grind out at-bats. They don't make it easy. Obviously, they're playing good baseball right now.”
Game 1. JV. Minute Maid Park.https://t.co/W5S0B8O7vx pic.twitter.com/bjWZS3Nfyx
Verlander is 14-11 with a 3.40 ERA in 31 career postseason games (30 starts). He’s thrown 187 2/3 career innings in the postseason, which is the second most among active players, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (189). Verlander is 7-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) since joining the Astros in 2017. He was the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 AL Championship Series against the Yankees.
Sign up to receive our daily Morning Lineup to stay in the know about the latest trending topics around Major League Baseball.
“It’s a different game in the playoffs. It just is,” Verlander said. “You kind of get in the grind of the regular season. You're just kind of like on this consistent ride, and then all of a sudden, the playoffs are just a different animal. It's a different game. There's a lot more pressure.”
Justin Verlander to start ALDS Game 1 vs. Mariners – MLB.com