Though Astros starter Justin Verlander already seemed a worthy candidate for the 2019 AL Cy Young award, his performance against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday thrust him ahead of the competition and added an exclamation point to his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Thirty-six-year-old Verlander turned in one of the greatest performances of his career, striking out 14, walking just one and earning his third career no-hitter. It was his first since 2011, which coincidentally also took place in Toronto, though Verlander was still wearing a Tigers uniform at the time.
Not all no-hitters are created equally, as some rely much far more on luck than others. Verlander’s outing on Sunday, though, was as worthy of the results as a no-hitter can be. Per Craig Edwards of FanGraphs, just two of the batted balls during the game had an expected hit percentage above 12%, effectively preventing any contact that would necessitate a no-hitter saving defensive gem.
The list of pitchers with three or more no-hitters is short and impressive, including just Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Cy Young, Larry Corcoran, and now, Justin Verlander.
Verlander began to slip into the background of the baseball landscape during some of the Tigers’ down years, but when he was traded to Houston at the end of August in 2017, he quickly reestablished himself as an authentic ace, posting a 1.06 ERA in his five September starts. From there, he etched his name in Houston Astros history by leading the team to its first World Series win.
Recognizing the importance of his contributions — and realizing that his elbow seems immune to the effects of age — the Astros signed Verlander to a two-year, $66 million contract extension that runs through 2021. Perhaps there was some concern heading into 2019 that he would have to show the effects of age eventually, but somehow, he continues to pitch as well as ever.
Verlander’s 2019 numbers already looked impressive, but his no-hitter helps make them jump off the page even more. He now owns a 2.56 ERA, an 11.98 K/9 and 5.2 fWAR. He also looks poised to eclipse the 200 innings mark for the 12th time in his career, strengthening his reputation as a veritable workhorse.
He now needs just 37 strikeouts to reach the coveted career total of 3000, and he also has 221 career wins, making him a candidate to reach 250 wins — a more modern standard for evaluating greatness than the 300-win mark. His career renaissance began years ago, but his ability to pitch in the upper-90s late into games at age 36 still defies understanding.
The Astros effectively wrapped up their division weeks ago, and with Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke representing the 1-2-3 in their postseason rotation, they have cause to feel confident about their shot at winning another World Series.