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 loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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