Pitching matchups for the American League Divisional Series, set to start Friday afternoon, are officially in place. The Indians will of course send two-time Cy Young Award winner and recently trimmed death machine Corey Kluber to the mound in game one, while the Houston Astros will turn to Justin Verlander, an equally scary pitcher on most accounts.
Verlander, 35, spent the first 12 and a half years of his Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Tigers, where he racked up gaudy numbers year after year, with the exception of a drop in the mid 2010s where he looked curiously average and as if his career might be winding down. That clearly wasn’t the case, though, as he became a key cog in the Astros winning the 2017 World Series and he’s in the running for a Cy Young this year.
But there’s always been a thorn in his side throughout all those years with the Tigers. A certain Ohio team has managed to beat him to a pulp more often than not, even when he was the untouchable star pitcher of the baseball world.
Because, you see, Verlander isn’t a pitcher with a lot of abysmal starts. He has his share of off nights, sure, but over 419 starts of his illustrious career, the big right-hander has allowed six or more runs just 19 times. So we’re not talking starts where he had a rough inning and worked out of it. I’m talking the rough and tumble games where he’s only in for a couple innings and gets completely shellacked. For some context, Corey Kluber has 13 such games in 196 starts.
Since Verlander came into the league in 2007, eight of those 19 horrendous starts have come opposite Indians lineups. It’s not even one Indians team in his bad year, or one particular player that has hampered him. EIGHT different lineups have consistently hammered Verlander to the point that he complains about the Indians stealing signs because he got rocked so hard night after night.
Before being traded to the Astros at the last possible second last season, Verlander was in the midst of an all-timer against the Indians. As detailed quite nicely by @Monte_Colorman on Twitter last year:
Justin Verlander vs. Cleveland in 2017:— Monte the Color Man (@Monte_Colorman) September 1, 2017
1-3, 8.14 ERA in 4 starts.
21ip, 30h, 12 BB (2.0 WHIP)
.323 BAA (.981 OPS) pic.twitter.com/aC8DQ85a2w
It’s one thing to have a few games add up to a rough picture against a certain team — and it rarely means anything — but so many of Verlander’s absolutely awful games happen to be against the Indians. It’s not one particular Indians team that has given him trouble (although last year’s squad was a doozy), it’s not exaggerated at or away from Progressive Field — for all intents and purposes it’s just the mere act of facing the Indians that seems to put Verlander consistently in a bad place. Maybe it was a Tigers thing and it’s gone now, maybe it doesn’t mean anything. But it’s a fun little coincidence, and maybe, just maybe, the Indians are living in his head rent free.
The biggest caveat here of course is that the Indians have to yet to face Astros Justin Verlander. There’s just something different about pitchers when they get to Houston — whether you’re Trevor Bauer and believe it to be pine tar, spin rate, or something else we don’t know about, they have a way of turning bad pitchers to good ones and good ones into great ones.
Hopefully that's not the case on Friday.