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A closer look at Justin Verlander’s World Series struggles

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Future Hall of Famer now 0-6 in the Fall Classic.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Justin Verlander is an all-time great record with an unimpeachable track record that includes a Cy Young Award, an MVP, several All-Star selections, and gobs of postseason success. He’s also 0-6 in his career in the World Series.

His latest defeat in the Fall Classic came in Game 6, thanks to two solo home runs and three runs allowed in his five innings. This is the year of the home run after all, and Verlander wasn’t immune, allowing a career-high 36 during the regular season, tied for third-most in the majors. The long balls didn’t deter Verlander from excellence, as he posted a 2.58 ERA with 300 strikeouts in his 34 starts, leading the majors in wins (21), innings pitched (223) and WHIP (0.803). If Verlander doesn’t win his second Cy Young Award this season, he’ll finish no worse than second to teammate Gerrit Cole.

In the postseason Verlander has allowed eight home runs in his six starts, tying Clayton Kershaw (2017) for the most allowed in a single postseason. But Verlander’s overall postseason record is very good. He has essentially a full season of work in the playoffs, with 30 starts and 187⅔ innings. He’s 14-11 with a 3.40 ERA, and his 205 strikeouts are the most in postseason history.

But in the World Series, Verlander is 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA in seven career starts.

I’m not here to call out Verlander as a choker because he has yet to win in the World Series. I find that exercise tiresome, and his track record speaks for itself. He doesn’t need defending. I’m just stating the facts, which happen to look unkindly upon Verlander in the Fall Classic.

Nobody but Verlander has more than four losses without a win in the World Series, and the only pitcher overall with more World Series losses than Verlander is Whitey Ford, who lost eight times but also won 10 and owns a stellar 2.71 ERA in the Fall Classic.

Most World Series losses without a win

Pitcher W-L ERA
Pitcher W-L ERA
Justin Verlander 0-6 5.68
Don Newcombe 0-4 8.59
Charlie Liebrandt 0-4 4.84
Ed Summers 0-4 5.73
Bill Sherdel 0-4 3.26
Source: Baseball-Reference

Verlander has left all seven of his career World Series starts trailing. Two of those came in his rookie year (2006) with the Tigers, but the pattern is still the same: no run support. Detroit and Houston have combined to score just nine total runs while Verlander was in the game in those seven World Series starts, never more than two runs in one game. The Astros scored once with Verlander in in both of his starts in the 2017 World Series (his one no decision came in Game 2, when a pitchers duel turned into a late slugfest that went to extra innings, that the Astros won), and have scored twice in both his World Series starts this year.

Three of those World Series outings for Verlander were quality starts, including one with two runs and nine strikeouts in six innings and no walks. With any sort of run support at all maybe one of those starts could have been a win, and we likely aren’t talking about this today. The zero in the win column is driving a lot of the conversation here, but then again so is the growing loss column.

Verlander this postseason has a 4.33 ERA, which is even more alarming given that the first of his six October starts featured seven scoreless innings. He’s had a chance to close out each of the Astros’ three series but lost all three times, allowing two home runs in each game:

  • 4 runs in 3⅔ innings against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, on three days rest
  • 4 runs in 7 innings against the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALCS, with 9 strikeouts and 0 walks
  • 3 runs in 5 innings against the Nationals in Game 6 of the World Series

The Astros can still very well win it all despite Verlander’s hiccups. They host Game 7 after all, and are the best team in baseball. Houston will have Zack Greinke on the mound in the finale, like Verlander a future Hall of Famer with plenty of accolades. Greinke also has a 4.31 career postseason ERA, and this year he’s at 5.30 while failing to complete five innings in three of his four October starts.

Sounds like either way, Verlander is out of the barrel today.