Astros could be in big trouble without Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander has been shelved with a lat injury. If he has to miss any time, it will be a big problem for the Houston Astros.

It’s been a bad enough offseason for the Houston Astros, dealing with the fallout of their sign-stealing scandal. Now, they are faced with the possibility of losing their ace pitcher, right-hander Justin Verlander, to a lat sprain. It appears that, at the very least, he won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Though most projections have the Astros at or near the top of the American League West again in 2020, the losses of both Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley to free agency this past offseason has left Houston with an already thin starting rotation behind Verlander and Zack Greinke. If the Astros lose Verlander for any length of time to start the season, it will be a severe blow.

Verlander’s injury is actually similar to the one that he suffered in 2015. That year, while with the Detroit Tigers, he suffered the injury in spring training and had to miss more than two months, not making his season debut until June 13. In his first nine starts after coming back, taking him into the first week of August, Verlander went 1-4 with a 5.05 ERA while his team went 1-8 in those games. Verlander finished 5-8, one of only two times his whole career that he’s finished with a losing record.

If what happened then is any indication, this could be a more severe injury than Astros management is leading us to believe. Add to that the fact that Verlander is five years older — now 37, among the oldest starting pitchers in the league — and it’s hard to envision Verlander not missing some significant time.

Verlander’s absence would leave a huge hole in the Astros’ starting rotation. After Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr. — who missed all of 2019 — and Jose Urquidy are next in line, with Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez, and Josh James competing for what now may be two starting slots instead of one. It’s not exactly a rotation to get excited about.

Verlander’s potential early-season absence could become even more significant when we look at the Astros’ early season schedule. Of the team’s first 28 games, ten are against the Los Angeles Angels and six are against the Oakland Athletics, the two teams that figure to be the biggest challengers to the Astros in their quest to defend their AL West crown. Verlander would be especially missed in those critical early-season contests.

While the Astros still have a solid club overall, especially with several star players on offense, an injury to Justin Verlander would greatly test the team’s depth on the mound. With the A’s still strong and the Angels figuring to be improved, Houston can’t afford to lose Verlander for significant amount of time. Hopefully, for them, it won’t be as bad as it was in 2015.

Next: 5 MLB teams coming of age in 2020 after seasons of rebuilding

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