The Houston Astros dominated the past two games of the American League Championship Series with their bats.
Now they will look for ace pitcher Justin Verlander to play a big role on Friday afternoon when the right-hander takes the mound for the crucial Game 5 matchup against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
The best-of-seven series is tied at two games apiece. Houston dropped the first two games of the ALCS at home before it racked up 18 runs in back-to-back victories at the Rangers’ ballpark.
The ball now goes to Verlander (1-1, 1.42 ERA this postseason), who is used to the big-game stage. He will face Texas left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 2.08).
“I think in the playoffs there’s so much other stuff that’s new and stressful,” Verlander said of the postseason stage. “I think you just try to rely on your normal routine and what’s gotten you here as much as you can.”
Verlander took the loss in Game 1 when he opposed Montgomery, allowing two runs and six hits over 6 2/3 innings. The Rangers won 2-0.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner said it is always a challenge making multiple starts against an opponent during a playoff series.
“I’m watching a lot of the games and trying to see what those guys are doing adjustment-wise on their end so that I can have an idea going forward what they’re trying to do so I can adjust maybe preemptively,” Verlander said. “But you never know until you’re out there and competing. That’s when everything happens.”
Verlander, 40, is 21-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 35 career regular-season starts against Texas. He defeated the Rangers on Sept. 6, when he gave up two runs (one earned) and four hits over seven innings.
Marcus Semien is 14-for-46 (.304) with two homers against Verlander.
Verlander is 17-12 with a 3.51 ERA in 37 career postseason appearances (36 starts). He tossed six shutout innings while beating the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
He will hope for more support from the Houston offense, which has thrived all season when playing at Globe Life Field. The Astros are 8-1 when visiting Texas in 2023 and are averaging nine runs in the nine meetings. Houston has scored 69 runs in its past six games in Arlington.
In the series-evening 10-3 victory on Thursday, Jose Abreu slugged a three-run homer and Yordan Alvarez also drove in three runs for the Astros.
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy admitted he was concerned over the type of losses his team absorbed in Games 3 and 4. However, he also feels his players can recover in what is now a best-of-three series.
“I always like my chances with this club,” Bochy said. “They’ve battled all year. We’re playing a good team. Nobody thought it was going to be easy. I’ve been in this kind of situation where we have to bounce back, and that’s what we need to do. They have played very well in this ballpark. We need to change that.”
Montgomery will attempt to slow the Astros for a second time in the series. He allowed five hits in 6 1/3 shutout innings during his stellar Game 1 outing.
The Friday game will be Montgomery’s fourth start of the postseason. He also beat the Tampa Bay Rays with seven scoreless innings in the wild-card round, then received a no-decision after giving up five runs (four earned) in four innings against the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS.
Montgomery plans to shake things up the second time around against Houston.
“Probably going to have to do something different,” he said. “I think the Astros are such a good team and such a good lineup that it’s hard to get them out the same way. So we’ll kind of just see how the game goes.”
Montgomery, 30, is 1-1 with a 3.73 ERA in six regular-season starts against Houston. In his only regular-season meeting with the Astros this year, he yielded two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings during a 4-2 win for the St. Louis Cardinals on June 27.
Martin Maldonado is 3-for-5 with two homers against Montgomery.