Houston Astros’ Game 6 starter Justin Verlander started the 2019 Postseason with seven scoreless innings of work on the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays in which he gave up just one hit, but in the four outings that have followed, the 36-year-old right-hander has a 5.40 ERA, with eight walks, 27 Ks, and a .261/.320/.511 line against in 23 1⁄3 IP.
Davey Martinez’s Washington Nationals put up a total of seven hits, three walks, and four earned runs in six innings against the future Hall of Fame starter in Game 2 of the World Series, in what ended up being a 12-3 win in Minute Maid Park, but in spite of his stats in recent outings, Verlander’s manager expressed confidence that the 15-year veteran will come through in tonight’s matchup, with the Astros one win away from a second title in three years.
“Our confidence is great,” Hinch told reporters on Monday. “We believe he’s going to be at his best tomorrow. He loves this big stage. He loves being relied upon. He’s going to be as intense as he’s been probably the entire season because he knows what can happen at the end of 27 outs.”
“And his first start in March or April he has the same intensity, but just not with the season on the line,” the ‘Stros’ skipper added.
“I think for a team -- I’ve heard a couple of our guys say this when Justin is pitching, we come to the ballpark with an absolute expectation to win. If your peers are saying that, when your team is saying that, when your manager is saying that, the fan base is going to be rocking tomorrow with a ton of confidence that JV is on the mound. That’s like the biggest compliment you can give to one of your guys.”
“I love that he’s going to own it,” Hinch continued. “I think it’s also not going to overwhelm him. And it’s because of — the back of his baseball card will tell you why. But I think this would be a nice little bullet point on a résumé that’s headed towards Cooperstown. If he can add a season-clinching, World Series-clinching win, count me in.”
The confidence-level on the other side is, of course, high as well, with the Nats’ second-year skipper telling reporters on Monday he believes that with Stephen Strasburg on the hill for Game 6, and the season on the line, there will be a Game 7.
“We have Stephen Strasburg on the mound, who has been unbelievable for us this year,” the manager said.
“The guys feel good. 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.”
Strasburg, 31, is unbeaten in five postseason outings (four starts) with a 1.93 ERA, two walks, 40 Ks, and a .234/.245/.374 line against in 28 IP, with six of those innings coming in Game 2 of the World Series in Minute Maid Park.
Going into his second start of the series against the Astros, Strasburg, who gave up seven hits, a walk, and two earned runs last time out, said his focus going into Game 6 is on just controlling what he can and executing each pitch.
“Really, it comes down to execution of pitches,” Strasburg said when asked about going up against the same team in a short period of time.
“Their approaches might change a little bit, but the important thing is to go out there and pound away and trust your stuff.”
Strasburg trusts his stuff. The Astros trust Verlander. It’s either going to be the final game of the 2019 season or the set-up for a dramatic Game 7. Either way, it’s going to be fun.