Washington Nationals’ leadoff man Trea Turner walked to start Game 2 of the World Series, taking a free pass from Justin Verlander in front of Adam Eaton, who singled, and Anthony Rendon, who hit a two-run double to drive in the eighth and ninth runs the Houston Astros’ starter has allowed in the first inning so far in his five postseason starts.
Verlander has given up 14 runs total in 30 1⁄3 IP (4.15 ERA) in October, and during the regular season, the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran allowed more first inning runs (13 total in 34 starts) than in any other inning, so if the Nationals want to get to the Astros’ righty again tonight, in his second start in the 2019 Fall Classic, they might want to jump on him early.
“Their team stacks their lineup, just like we do,” Houston’s manager, A.J. Hinch, said when asked about Verlander’s first inning issues while he spoke with reporters on Monday.
“When you get in -- there’s been some really tough top of the orders that he’s had to face this playoff series. All three teams that we played put pressure from the very beginning.
“I think with a lot of elite pitchers, and power pitchers specifically, for them to catch their rhythm and their timing is very critical and sometimes if you don’t get them early you never get them.
“I even saw that [Sunday] night with [Gerrit] Cole — where they got some pressure on him early in the game, first and third, no outs, he was able to wiggle his way out of it, and that’s important.
“JV has had a little bit of a similar pressure put on him at the top of the order and a couple of big hits have changed the narrative,” Hinch continued.
“Now, once he does find all three of his pitches and he finds his slot where he likes where he’s throwing, specifically his slider, watch out, because he can rattle off a lot of outs in a row in a couple of these playoff starts.”
In the previous two series this month, Verlander has given up more runs in his second starts against the Tampa Bay Rays (zero then four) and New York Yankees (two then four) than he’d allowed in his initial outings in those series.
He’s (0-3) with a 5.40 ERA in his last four outings, after winning his initial postseason start this year against the Rays.
Verlander acknowledged it is difficult to face the same opponent in consecutive outings in a short span of time.
“Yeah, it becomes more difficult,” he said. “I think there’s adjustments both ways. But I think those opposing guys once they’ve seen you three, four at-bats, it’s a little bit easier for them to make adjustments, and having seen your off-speed stuff and tracked it. You just need to execute a little bit better.”
Of the 107 pitches he threw in Game 2, 51 were fastballs, (which sat 94-96), on which he got nine swinging and eight called strikes, 31 were sliders (seven swinging, four called strikes), 22 were curves (with four swinging and seven called strikes), and he mixed in his changeup (three pitches, one swinging strike), for a total of 21 swinging and 19 called strikes overall in the outing.
Verlander told reporters on Sunday afternoon, before Game 5, that he was happy his team managed to win the first two in D.C., giving themselves an opportunity (two opportunities after the win that night) to win it all in their home park, after losing the first two games of the series in Minute Maid Park.
“I think after the first couple of games obviously our goal coming here was to be able to get back to Minute Maid,” he said.
“We’ve accomplished that. And obviously we want to win tonight. But excited to get back home and play in front of our home crowd.”
“When JV gets beat in Game 2,” his manager said after their Game 5 win gave them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, “the season is almost going to be over, there’s a race for four wins.
“I have to remind everybody we have a good team, it’s a seven-game series, we’re going to be fine.
“I think over the course of this time everybody expects it to be this smooth ride of excellence and dominance and talent wins out.”
Will Verlander, in his fourth trip to the World Series, be able to help the Astros lock down a second championship in three seasons? And what would it mean to him if he did?
“I mean, hard to put into words,” he said. “I can’t even really -- it’s one of those things that in the moment, right now while we’re grinding, trying to win it, you don’t really think about it.
“It probably wouldn’t even cross my mind or sink in until the offseason sometime.”
The Nationals hope that over the offseason he’ll be lamenting being the starter in two losses in the series.