Justin Verlander’s Game 1 Domination Means More Than One Series
Justin Verlander’s performance Wednesday night against the New York Yankees was singularly impressive, a solid six-inning outing in which he struck out 11 batters to give the Houston Astros a one-game lead in the ALCS. In the context of his career, however, it means even more, another chapter in the future Hall-of-Famer’s routine domination of the Bronx Bombers over the last decade.
Since 2011, Verlander has faced the Yankees in the postseason eight times as a member of the Detroit Tigers and Astros. The team he started for won six of those games, with the pair of losses coming eight years apart in 2011 and 2019. Between 2006 and 2019, the Yankees have faced off against teams featuring Verlander in five postseason series. They have never advanced past him.
101 mph vs. the Yankees in the 2006 postseason at age 23
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98 mph vs. the Yankees in the 2022 postseason at age 39 pic.twitter.com/Nnuc12sSnn
— David Adler (@_dadler) October 20, 2022
Verlander’s most recent win Wednesday was the sixth straight time in which he has held the Yankees to five hits or less in the playoffs, allowing three on this occasion. Despite the loss in 2019, he has now held New York to two runs or less in five of their last six postseason matchups.
After reviewing this reign in full, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Verlander has been one of the key contributors to the Yankees’ postseason struggles over the last decade. Despite consistently strong regular season performances and healthy payrolls, the team has not reached the World Series since 2009. Many have argued that their power-hitting lineup has not been enough to compensate for a relatively weak starting rotation over the years.
Those issues seemed to be a thing of the past earlier this season when Gerrit Cole was nearly pitching like an ace and Nestor Cortes appeared as a sudden revelation. But then the team collapsed in the second half, and it took Aaron Judge’s historic home run chase to breathe new life into the team ahead of the postseason. After all these years, the 108-win Astros were still better in 2022, and Wednesday night’s game served as a cruel reminder. Despite his advanced age, Verlander continues to give the Yankees’ opponents the advantage in the playoffs.
Game 2 of the ALCS kicks off tonight, and though the Yankees won’t have to deal with Verlander again, Astros pitcher Frambler Valdez is a talent in his own right. New York pitcher Luis Severino, on the other hand, is still looking for his first postseason win against the Astros, having appeared in two losing efforts in 2017 and another in 2019. In his only playoff appearance this season, Severino allowed three runs to the Cleveland Guardians in a game the Yankees went on to lose 6-5. Cleveland’s offense is significantly weaker than Houston’s, which features Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman.
As New York proved against Cleveland, there’s life for the Yankees as long as there’s a game left to play. But Game 1 of the ALCS felt more like an inescapably familiar tune than anything new for the organization. The path to the World Series is as clear as it’s ever been, but Verlander and company remain the perpetual obstacle.
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