With nine losses in their past 11 games, the reigning American League champion Astros have fallen under .500 (23-24) and find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. The Astros have gone almost the whole year without 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, which certainly hasn’t helped matters, but they’re hoping to get him back for a start in the final week of the regular season, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com relays.
Verlander, who’s recovering from a forearm strain, threw 55-60 pitches Saturday and will soon face live hitters, which is a “very, very positive sign,” according to manager Dusty Baker.
In Baker’s estimation, no matter how late in the campaign, a Verlander return would be like a major late-season acquisition. Baker’s not wrong in that regard, as Verlander has long been an elite starter and could help decide whether the Astros make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season or sit home in the fall.
Without Verlander, who has only taken the mound once (on July 24), the Astros’ formerly elite rotation has been a middle-of-the-pack unit. Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez have posted far better field-independent pitching numbers than ERAs; on the other hand, the opposite has been true for Cristian Javier; Jose Urquidy has only made two starts; and Lance McCullers Jr. logged a 5.79 ERA before going on the injured list Sept. 6 with neck problems. Like Verlander, though, McCullers is on his way back, per McTaggart, who writes that he’ll return to the team’s rotation Wednesday.