Let me get this out of the way right off the bat, I am NOT saying this because I am a Detroit Tigers fan and Justin Verlander is a former Tiger. I am NOT saying this out of my undying love for No. 35. I AM saying this because it is the absolute truth.
Justin Verlander was THE most important player on the now World Champion Houston Astros. No disrespect to Joe Altuve, who will most likely win the American League MVP, nor George Springer, whose five home runs, as well as 11-for-29 hitting helped him win the Willie Mays Most Valuable Player award, but without Verlander on the mound, Houston doesn’t even GET to the World Series, let alone win the damn thing.
Let’s be clear here, the Astros were one of the best teams in all of baseball from day one. Their young line-up was impressive all year, from Altuve, to Alex Bregman, to Carlos Correa, the Astros offense was dynamic. And on the mound, Dallas Keuchel was far and away their ace, but after Keuchel, who do the Astros turn to? Charlie Morton? He’s good, pitched great last night in relief, but he’s not a star, not an intimidating presence on the mound like Keuchel. Lance McCullers? Again, good, not great, a 7-4 record with 22 starts and an above-4 ERA in 2017. Houston needed someone to get them over the hump, someone who can go the distance if need-be, and make sure the Houston bullpen, which again was good but not great, did not need to wear themselves out in a 5-or-7-game series.
Enter Justin Verlander. THE work horse of work horses. A man who pitches 200+ innings when others simply can’t or won’t. According to former Tiger’s pitcher Jack Morris, JV’s built that way.
“I think he was built for more pitches,” said Jack Morris, another former Tigers ace, who is analyzing this series for MLB.com. “I think that’s his mentality, because he’s never been a spot-on guy; he’ll go 3-2 a lot, he’ll walk guys and strike out guys. So he’s naturally going to throw a lot of pitches. But when you look at his track record, for a good part of his career, he’s gaining velocity in the sixth, seventh inning. That says a lot about his durability and his physical and mental makeup.”
It’s that exact makeup, both physical and mental, that Houston needed to go from great ballclub, to championship ballclub. Another ace to go along with Keuchel and give the Astros the vaunted 1-2 punch most World Championship teams are known for. And Verlander delivered from the word “go”, compiling a 5-0 record and a 1.06 ERA in his five regular-season starts for the Astros.
In the post-season, Verlander squared off against a Boston Red Sox team that ended his last World Series chance in 2013, and stepped up again, going 2-0 against the Sox including clinching the series in Game 4 in a relief effort. After taking down the mighty Red Sox, Verlander set his sights on the upstart New York Yankees, a team many expected to be in the Championship Series next year.
In Game 2, with a 1-0 series lead, Verlander pitched a GEM, throwing 124 pitches while going the distance and giving the Astros a 2-0 series lead. After JV’s outting, the Stros went to New York and got their collective butts handed to them for three straight games, including 5-0 defeat pitched by Keuchel. Enter Verlander in game 6 with the season on the line. He goes out and completely shuts the Yankees down for 7 innings, giving the Houston offense time to get rolling (it was a scoreless tie after four innings), and eventually improve to 4-0 in the postseason with a 7-1 win and a series tied at 3. We all know who won the series, and Verlander took home the much-deserved ALCS MVP. And here’s where we get to the meat, it is THIS series where my claim comes from, because it is THIS series that Houston LOSES without Justin Verlander.
In the World Series, JV pitched 12 total innings (more than any other Houston starter), held the Dodgers to just five total hits in two games, and was robbed of a chance to win Game 6 by his manager. His overall post-season numbers for 2017 are four wins, one loss in six games pitched, allowing just nine runs in the entire postseason and striking out 38 batters. His ERA in the ALDS and WS were just over 3, but it was the ALCS where he shown brightest, allowing just one run in 16 innings, his ERA was a ridiculous 0.56. In comparison, Dallas Keuchel went 2-2 in 5 games, allowing 12 runs, striking out 32, and watched his ERA balloon from 1.59 against the Red Sox, to 3.09 against the Yankees, to 5.23 against the Dodgers.
So again, I will state, Houston does not even MAKE the World Series without adding Justin Verlander to their team. The numbers prove it, the players know it, and we all saw it. He’s a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, who finally has that last piece of hardware to cement his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it.
And he’s the REAL MVP for the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros.