— Tony Quarantino (@tomleykis) July 26, 2020
Justin Verlander is an imposing presence for the Houston Astros on the mound. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is under some pressure with the Houston Astros now. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
New dad Justin Verlander is as competitive as ever for Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander and Kate Upton know how to make hats look good. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker was funny, reflective and honest in his Houston Astros intro. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jim Crane (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander became a new dad and then signed a new $66 million contract. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker's speed can be a legitimate difference maker for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander may be the smartest pitcher in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a pitcher's pitcher, a craftsman who does not rely on speed. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros rookie Kyle Tucker has a beyond smooth swing. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Zack Greinke's addition pushed Houston Astros excitement to a whole new level in 2019. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker has a stacked lineup and a major challenge. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a different type of ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander is seriously injured — and more than likely on this way to being down and out for this 60-game coronavirus season. That sound you hear is the gleeful rejoicing in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and other baseball outposts everywhere. The defending American League champions — the team that’s made the World Series two of the last three years, royally annoying the rest of the Major Leagues along the way — suddenly looks as vulnerable as the rest of us feel during these pandemic times.
Verlander is no longer the rock the Astros can lean on every fifth day.
Suddenly, the mighty Astros are almost completely dependent on the sometimes confounding Zack Greinke suddenly finding the fountain of youth that Justin Verlander and Tom Brady discovered. Which the refreshingly honest Greinke would tell you is unlikely.
Astros manger Dusty Baker — who might only have a season or two to win with these Astros — and Verlander seem to be holding out hope that last year’s Cy Young throwback winner could somehow pitch again for Houston in 2020. Baker told reporters on a postgame Zoom conference that Verlander has a forearm injury and will be reevaluated in a few weeks. Verlander went as far as taking to Twitter to dispute the report that he is out for the season.
That report came from the Chronicle’s Chandler Rome. Rome is one of the better young reporters in all of baseball and a very tapped in beat writer. His report is based on two different sources. Astros fans (and certain local TV types) who are gleeful because they are certain Rome is wrong are likely to be end up being disappointed. A “forearm strain” is almost always the first public reveal on what turns out to be an elbow injury that often requires Tommy John surgery.
This does not definitely mean Verlander will eventually need the surgery, but it’s certainly an alarming sign.
There is nothing wrong with the 37-year-old Verlander holding out hope — and perhaps seeking multiple opinions — of course. His first MRI came Saturday. Astros fans who read his tweet and expect to see the ace in August are deluding themselves, though. You might have a better chance of seeing Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in a movie theater this summer.
“It’s tough,” Astros MVP candidate Alex Bregman says at Minute Maid Park when asked about Verlander’s absence. “He’s a Cy Young. He’s a top of the rotation guy. A top of the rotation teammate. A hard worker.
“We’re going to have to battle and some guys are going to have to step up.”
The Astros are scrambling for good answers. It is not out of realm of possibility that Forrest Whitley will be activated to start against the Dodgers on Wednesday night. First year general manager James Click is very much on the spot. And the rest of baseball is going absolutely bonkers with joy.
When you’re living in Houston, it is sometimes easy to forget it, but this Verlander injury is delivering another lesson in just how much the rest of the country enjoys piling on the Astros. It’s a full-fledged blood sport of its own.
So many mentions of karma and cheaters getting what they deserve are tweeted out in the wake of the Verlander news that you half expect to see spontaneous “Verlander is Injured!” parties break out.
The venom is live, real and loud — and it’s only likely to be magnified when the LA Dodgers come to Houston for a two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday that will now highlight how tenuous the Astros’ starting pitching situation truly is.
One thing on all the karma talk, though. If the Astros were actually going to get some cosmic karma punishment for their electronic sign stealing operation wouldn’t it have happened while the elaborate sign stealing was going on? Karma should not need to wait until public reports of a scandal come out a few years later. It’s freaking karma. It should have been in the ether all along.
What, karma needs a commissioner’s report to activate? Something seems a little off there.
Regardless, the Astros hate train will steam on throughout most of the Major League Baseball universe. All aboard! To dance on Houston’s expected demise.
The Astros still have arguably the deepest lineup in baseball — especially if Dusty Baker starts playing Kyle Tucker more like the stats are soon going to scream he should. (Tucker laced a double off the wall to lead off the ninth in the Astros’ 7-6 loss to the Mariners Sunday after scorching two balls on Saturday.) But expecting Lance McCullers Jr. to be a full-fledged ace in his first season back from Tommy John surgery is a little much.
And that’s likely what the Astros would need. Greinke lasted only 3 1/3 innings against a hardly stacked Mariners team on Sunday, giving up three runs, four hits and three walks. And scaring nobody.
Greinke is not boastful by nature (and that’s putting it mildly). But the pitcher himself is not exactly predicting any return to dominance at age 36.
“I’m highly confident that in a couple of outings, it will be sharp again,” Greinke says after start No. 1 Sunday. “I’m not going to say the best pitcher in baseball, but I would hope I could be close to or the same as last year in a couple of starts from now.”
That is good — but no Verlander. Welcome to the current state of the Astros. The rest of baseball will be cheering on their expected demise with unbridled glee — for now.
It’s Houston vs. the world. Only this time with no Verlander.