Will Justin Verlander Help Bring A World Series To Houston?

By Jen Rainwater / @baseball_jen

Late Thursday night the Houston Astros FINALLY made the deal that should have been made a month ago, a week ago or anytime prior to the last few seconds before a Major League Baseball player could be traded and still be eligible to play on the team’s postseason roster.

They made a deal with the Detroit Tigers to acquire 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, in exchange for three of their best prospects with the biggest one being their top pitching and number two overall prospect Franklin Perez.

Still believed by many to be the AL's best hope at winning the 2017 World Series, the Astros had put up a losing 19-24 record since the All-Star Break.

All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa had been out since July 17 after suffering an injury to his left thumb that required surgery. Since then the team had lost one of their top starters in Lance McCullers Jr., reliever Will Harris and catcher Evan Gattis to the disabled list. Somehow Houston still managed to keep hold of the best record in the Junior Circuit at 80-53 with their closest competitors being last year’s pennant-winning Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, each with 76 wins.

With an 11.5 game lead in the AL West, making the postseason isn’t going to be an issue for the Astros with or without Verlander. While their pitching overall hasn’t been terrible, the rotation has struggled with injuries. There had also been a lurking question since the season began. Did the Astros need another big name starter?

The former Cy Young award winner has taken his talents to Houston. (Source: Houston Chronicle)

The short answer was, at least until late Thursday night, yes the Astros needed a solid number two starter behind 2015 Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel. While Keuchel has been good, posting a 2.19 ERA, he’s only made 18 starts having spent some time on the disabled list. Mike Fiers technically leads their starting rotation with a 4.55 ERA over 26 starts and the combined ERA for Astros starters is 4.15.

That isn’t exactly the desired ERA a team wants heading into the playoffs, especially a team with a strong chance to advance to the World Series.

Adding a huge name with a lot of postseason experience seemed like it would be the logical decision at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Verlander has made 16 career starts in the postseason, including making appearances in the World Series in both 2006 and 2012. Overall, the 2016 Cy Young Award runner-up has pitched to the tune of a 3.39 ERA across 98.1 innings in the postseason.

Yet the Astros didn’t make a big move for the big right-hander. Taking on Verlander’s enormous contract and likely parting with some top prospects didn’t appear to sit well with the Astros’ brass, much to the dismay of many of their players. Verlander is owed $28 million per year over the next two seasons and has a vesting option for $22 million in 2020. The Tigers will reportedly be assuming $8 million per year for both 2018 and 2019.

Those same formerly dismayed players are now energized and the clubhouse has suddenly become electric according to Houston skipper A.J. Hinch, who told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com:

"From the clubhouse, I think it's really hard to overstate the kind of energy that a move likes this puts into the group. From the text messages to the calls to the overall excitement of our club, these additions are a huge boost on the energy and makeup component, but more importantly from the baseball component.”

With McCullers set to come off the disabled list before the postseason, this move gives the Astros the one-two-three punch at the top of their rotation that had been sorely needed.

Keuchel, Verlander and McCullers will be much better suited to match up against the National League’s best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who currently sit atop all of Major League Baseball with a 91-41 record.

At the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers added a huge arm to their already stellar rotation, trading for four-time All-Star and Texas Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish. Darvish joined Clayton Kershaw, who is arguably the best pitcher on the planet, All-Star Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy in what makes for an already formidable rotation.

Not all of these pitchers will make the postseason roster but with a one-two-three and even four like Kershaw, Wood and Darvish plus Hill, the Dodgers rotation will be fierce. Darvish has struggled of late but is known to be one of the best when he’s on.

The addition of Verlander puts the Astros in a position to really compete. It gives them the chance to be the first baseball team to bring home a World Series to the state of Texas, as prominent sports betting sites have improved the Astros odds of winning it all. In light of current events in Houston (which likely did not factor into the decision-making process regarding the trade), it is something that is sorely needed. It could be a huge boost to the city and the state as they are surviving the current hurricane crisis.

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