Houston Astros’ Game 6 starter Justin Verlander gave up seven hits, three walks, and four earned runs in six innings of work on the mound in Game 2 of the World Series, which the Washington Nationals won, 12-3. With six days to go back over the start and a chance to watch three games’ worth of at bats to study up before tonight’s outing in Game 6, what has the future Hall-of-Fame starter picked up from his opponent?
“I think their two-strike approach is really good,” Verlander told reporters before Game 5 on Sunday night in the nation’s capital. “I think they prepare very well. I think they will adjust to that pitcher, that given day.
“Which is, funny enough, in today’s game you don’t see it that often.
“It seems easy to say, ‘Wow, you make an adjustment, you go to a two-strike approach, but that’s found its way out of the game.’”
“Honestly,” the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran added, “it’s kind of refreshing to see a couple of teams that don’t swing and miss a ton, and change their approach based on the pitcher that’s pitching against them.
“So I think the guys in the middle of that lineup get a ton of credit and a lot of the headlines, but really, 1 through 9, all those guys are really good hitters. And surprisingly so, I don’t think we see a lot of each other throughout the course of the season, NL and AL, besides some highlights on TV. So you’re not really studying to play against each other. Having faced them, they’re just extremely talented top to bottom.”
Talented as they may be, the Nationals, who scored 17 runs in back-to-back wins in the first two games of the 115th Fall Classic, managed just three runs total in three straight losses in the nation’s capital in Games 3-5.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters that the offensive struggles had at least a little to do with the pitchers they were going up against.
“You know, when I look back and watching, we’re missing our pitches, one. I want us to be a little bit more aggressive on the fastballs,” Martinez explained.
“Also, two, we’re facing some really good pitchers. So it’s imperative that -- it’s tough enough to hit with two strikes on, but you’ve got Gerrit Cole on the mound and you’re hitting with two strikes, it gets tougher.
“With that being said,” he continued, “I want these guys to just relax and just try to stay in the middle of the field and put the ball in play. If you look back, we had some pretty good at-bats yesterday. We hit the ball hard.
“I talked about Trea specifically. Had nothing to show for it but he hit the ball pretty good three times [in Game 5].
“So just keep working good at-bats. This will turn around. Keep working good at-bats. Like I said, one guy gets on, walk, whatever, the next guy, and just keep that train going.”
Houston’s train has been going strong since the start of Game 3. Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch told reporters after their win on Sunday night that they didn’t change much up after losing both of the first two games at home, though the results have improved dramatically.
“We didn’t tweak anything,” Hinch said. “We just continued to play the series. We have experience in series, in seven-game series. We know on the front end you can’t assume anything when you’re ahead and on the other end you can’t assume when you’re down.”
“I don’t think we tweaked anything,” he reiterated, “but we started to bring our personality back, we started to bring our run production back. We started playing from ahead, that was the key for us, this three games in Washington. And subsequently we -- our pitching staff decided not to give up very many runs. And combine those things and we come away with three wins.”
Martinez’s Nationals have avoided elimination three times already this month, and they will have to do it again tonight to stay in the fight, and the second-year skipper isn’t conceding anything going into Game 6 in Houston.
“The guys feel good,” he said on Monday afternoon, before the team boarded a flight for Texas.
“We were talking last night after the press conference, and they’re all upbeat. They don’t think that this -- this is way far from over. But like I said, they’re going to rest, get ready to play tomorrow, and win tomorrow.”
The home team has lost every game so far in the World Series, just the third time that’s happened in the history of the Fall Classic. Martinez said after Sunday’s loss that he still believes his team will force a Game 7.
“We had our backs against the wall all year long, nobody thought we were going to be here,” he said.
“We’re here playing Game 6 of the World Series. We’re going to fight. We’re going to finish this thing.”