Verlander could be on Cy Young pace yet again

5 strikes from Justin Verlander's hot start to 2019

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After finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2018 to Blake Snell, many may have thought that the 2018 season would be as close as Justin Verlander would ever get to the award at this late stage in his career. Verlander is writing a different story, though, with his strong start to 2019.

1) Undefeated through six starts again

Through the first six starts of 2019, Verlander currently boasts a 4-0 record. The two games he didn't earn a win were his two worst starts so far, one being a four-run four-inning start against the Rangers in Arlington, the other a three-run six-inning start at home against the Yankees. He was taken off the hook in Arlington, though the Astros would end up losing the game, then similarly he was taken out of losing position in the Yankees game before Houston would get the go-ahead run later in the game, resulting in a no-decision for Verlander. Though it's unlikely he'll go undefeated all season, he's matched his win-loss record through six starts he had last year, where he had the same 4-0 record with two no-decisions.

2) Steady lowering of ERA 

After that three-run Yankees game mentioned earlier, Verlander's ERA had ballooned up to 4.24. In the three games since, he's allowed just one run in each, making it three runs over twenty-one innings to lower his 4.24 ERA back down to 2.61, which is currently seventh best in the American League. He'll need to continue to lower that ERA to match his 2018 pace, though, because at this point last season he had a spectacular 1.36 before lowering it even further to 1.05 at the ten-start mark.

3) Reliability to log innings

One of the biggest cases against Snell in the Cy Young voting in 2018 was that he didn't meet the traditionally-expected 200-inning mark. Verlander meanwhile threw 214 innings over his 34 starts last season. In 2019, Verlander has logged 38 innings over six starts, which has him comfortably on pace to put up another 200-plus inning season, a trait that has been a great benefit for Houston's bullpen that has to account for fewer innings of relief.

4) Easily addressable issues

Though the first six games of 2019, the two biggest flaws with Verlander's stats, by his standards, are that he's allowed a home run in each start and has walked 1.5 batters per game. These are easily and likely just early-season spot issues that someone, as experienced as Justin Verlander, can tweak quickly, as he has in previous seasons.

5) Big, historic strikeout numbers

Although Gerrit Cole's overall stat line is much worse than it was at this point last year, one highlight of his early season has been his role in another strikeout leader battle with Justin Verlander. Much like last season where they would trade spots on the strikeout leaderboard, they are doing the same again with Cole leading the AL with 54 and Verlander in third with 46. That puts Verlander on a similar pace to what he accomplished in his career-high 290 strikeout season in 2018. To tie it all together, Verlander is likely to pass several Hall of Fame pitchers for career strikeouts in 2019 including Cy Young himself. Verlander currently sits at 2,752 which is just 51 Ks away from Cy Young's 21st-best 2,803.

Looking forward: Verlander is projected to get two starts this week, one tonight on the road in Minnesota against the Twins, then he will be scheduled to get the nod on Sunday in Mexico City in the two-game international series against the Angels. Past that, if he can keep up his current pace, he should be a lock for the All-Star game and should be in the conversation for Cy Young at season's end.

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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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