Are the Astros doomed without Justin Verlander?
The Houston Astros are not having a great 2020 season. Luckily for them, they still appear to be set to take the second spot in the American League West division and qualify for the playoffs. The only thing preventing that would be a total collapse in the final week of the season against the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
But let’s assume the Astros do make the postseason. Earlier in the season there was hope Justin Verlander would return right about now and be ready for playoff baseball. Instead, he is undergoing Tommy John surgery and Zack Greinke remains as the ace with Verlander out and Gerrit Cole in New York.
The Astros are 27-26 entering play Monday and the news about Verlander was a huge blow. So is the team doomed to suffer an early playoff exit in October?
Justin Verlander’s absence looms large
Verlander made one start this season and logged six innings of work. Since he went out the rotation has featured Greinke, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr.
Jose Urquidy and Brandon Bielak have also combined to make 10 starts.
Right now it appears Greinke and Valdez should get the first two starts in a best-of-three series. Even if Verlander did return it would be a question of if he is ready to pitch in such a high-leverage situation. That hypothetical is now thrown out with his injury.
The Astros are indeed at a disadvantage without him. However, the problems run much deeper than just one pitcher.
2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve is slashing .213/.279/.311 and Alex Bregman is not doing much better at .246/.358/.429. The team is also set to be the away team in the first round and they are rocking a 7-18 road record so far.
Verlander coming back likely would not be enough to save the team, especially in a three-game series. It will ultimately come down to the stars on offense to turn things around and do so fast.
Blaming Verlander’s absence for an early exit would be ignoring all the clear problems on offense. The easy storyline here is that the batters are struggling now that there is no more sign-stealing. Could that be the obvious answer here? It may just be for a team that looked unstoppable since 2017.