Verlander, 36, finished his 15th big league campaign (21-6) overall in 34 starts, with the 4th-lowest ERA (2.58) in the majors, the most innings pitched (223), the second-most strikeouts (300), lowest BAA (.172), and the lowest WHIP (0.80) among qualified starters.
He threw seven scoreless innings in his first postseason start this month, but the Astros’ veteran starter had a 5.19 ERA (10 ER in 17 1⁄3 IP) and a .250/.301/.515 line against in three outings that followed.
Going up against the Nationals, he said on Tuesday, is going to be a difficult assignment.
“I think they have a really good mix,” Verlander told reporters. “They have speed. They have power. They have patience. They have plate coverage. I haven’t really done all my homework yet. They present a lot of challenges for a starting pitcher, especially when you’ve got to get them out more than one time in multiple ways. And obviously the two guys that are in the middle have kind of carried them thus far. Tough outs.”
Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch talked after the Nationals’ 5-4 win last night about one of the two guys in the middle of the Nats’ lineup Verlander was referring to, after Juan Soto went 3 for 4 with a home run and a two-run double in the series opener, striking out in his first at bat before connecting for three consecutive hits.
“We haven’t seen him a ton in person,” Hinch said.
“A little bit of Spring Training, which doesn’t count. But he was clearly the key guy that we couldn’t control tonight. His bat speed is electric. His energy and his body is as advertised. He’s calm in the moment. Clearly this is not too big a stage for him. I think he’s taking big swings early on, bounced back from the punch-out, had three really good at-bats, big hits.
“He was the difference in the game.”
What makes the Nationals’ 20-year-old slugger so difficult to face?
“At this point age is sort of a number,” Hinch said.
“He’s had so many at-bats at the Major League level. I don’t even look at him as young until you see his face. He’s got kind of the ‘it’ factor. He’s got the twitch. He’s got fast hands. He’s got no fear. I think that’s big for a young hitter. Early in his career to just kind of leave it out there. It looks like he’s completely in control of enjoying the moment. And he hit all sorts of different pitches.”
“He’s mature,” Hinch added. “Don’t let the age fool you.”
Soto’s three-hit game left him 12 for 42 (.286/.362/.548) with two doubles, three home runs, four walks, and 14 Ks through 11 games in his first postseason run.
Where does his preternatural calm come from? And how is he able to deal with the pressure of big situations so well?
“I’ve been working on that since my first day in the big leagues,” Soto told reporters last night.
“Sometimes I just put gum in my mouth, but most of the time just take a deep breath and focus. It’s just the pitcher and me. Everybody around, I forget about everybody around.
“It’s just you and me and you try to make me out and that’s how everything comes down and try to enjoy it.”
Soto and Verlander will go head-to-head tonight in Game 2 of the World Series. Will the Nationals take another one in the Astros’ home? Will they go 1-0 again today?