Astros fans received two very different sets of news on ace Justin Verlander on Sunday.
First, Houston Chronicle beat writer Chandler Rome tweeted that Verlander would miss the remainder of the season:
However, manager Dusty Baker disagreed with this assessment following Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the Mariners:
Verlander himself went on Twitter to assure fans – in a very direct reproach to the initial report – that he would return this season:
Obviously, missing two weeks presents a very different scenario than missing the entire season; however, in this compressed season, even a two-week injury could impact the team significantly – you could equate it to a 5-6 week injury in a regular 162-game season. Additionally, the words “forearm strain” frequently portend a more serious elbow injury – after all, the forearm muscles connect to the elbow. Fortunately, Baker seemed to indicate that an MRI had already ruled this out:
With the losses of Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley to free agency, along with Jose Urquidy missing the start of the season, the Astros could ill afford an injury to any starting pitcher, much less the reigning Cy Young winner. FanGraphs projected Verlander for 1.7 WAR in the shortened season, and any potential replacements (likely either Christian Javier or a bullpen game at this point) would project about replacement level. While the team’s lack of depth in outfield might have made an injury to George Springer a slightly bigger impact, losing Verlander for an extended time was just about the worst scenario the Astros could face.
Before any Astros fans press the panic button, though, keep in mind the new expanded playoffs allow the Astros quite a bit of leeway. With the Astros at 2-1, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs showed the Astros with a 98% and 96% chance (respectively) to make the playoffs. With a projected 4 game cushion over the second-place A’s, even the loss of Verlander for the season would not chance the team’s status as the favorite to win the division.
The real difference would come during the postseason itself. The Astros could have relied on a 1-2-3 of Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Lance McCullers Jr., leaving them in a similar place as previous postseasons. Without Verlander, they would no longer face favorable pitching matchups in most scenarios past the first round.
For that reason, and owing in no small part to Verlander’s age, expect the Astros to proceed very cautiously with his recovery. The Astros offense should provide plenty of power to stay above .500, and making this postseason will require little more than that. But if the Astros don’t get Verlander back this season, then their ceiling just changed dramatically.
Featured Image: Houston Chronicle