Houston Astros ace right-hander Justin Verlander just put the finishing touches on what might be regarded as one of the most impressive individual pitching seasons in history.
Now teammate Framber Valdez will look for a strong ending to his stellar campaign when the Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies conclude their regular season on Wednesday in Houston.
In his first season back following Tommy John surgery, Verlander likely secured his third American League Cy Young Award by twirling five no-hit innings in the Astros' 10-0 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday.
Verlander (18-4), the AL Cy Young winner in 2011 and 2019, made 28 starts and recorded 185 strikeouts over 175 innings in his age-39 season.
Of greater significance, Verlander posted a 1.75 ERA, the lowest by a qualified AL starter in a 162-game season since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez produced a 1.74 ERA with the Boston Red Sox in 2000. Martinez claimed his second consecutive and third Cy Young Award in a four-year span that year.
"It's great to have him on the mound," Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Verlander. "The team's excited, the fans are excited, I think baseball is excited when he's on the mound on a national stage like that. He's some pitcher."
Verlander has been reticent to discuss individual accolades during this comeback season, and he deflected a question regarding the potential of securing a third Cy Young Award. But this remarkable campaign burnished his already certified Hall of Fame credentials, and even Verlander submitted to acknowledging just how extraordinary the 2022 campaign was.
"I do appreciate it," he said. "A lot of hard work went into it, a lot of growth as a person behind the scenes I think allowed me to appreciate this a little bit more and be in the moment. I've talked about that a lot.
"Now that the regular season is over I'm obviously very pleased with how it turned out. But obviously, we don't have much time to celebrate. We have to look forward to the postseason. Get my mechanics where they need to be, fine-tuning things, just making sure everything is healthy and good to go."
Valdez (16-6, 2.89 ERA) will look to follow suit on Wednesday as he attempts to halt a personal mini skid.
After stringing together 25 consecutive quality starts, a major league record for a single season, Valdez has allowed 13 runs (10 earned) on 20 hits and four walks over his last two starts and 10 2/3 innings. The left-hander took a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in his latest outing on Friday when he was tagged for six runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Valdez leads the American League with 0.5 home runs allowed per nine innings and in complete games (three). He needs to log 3 2/3 innings to reach 200 in a season for the first time in his career.
Valdez is set to make his first career appearance against the Phillies.
Left-hander Bailey Falter (6-4, 3.90 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Phillies on Wednesday. He has won six of his past seven decisions and has a 3.06 ERA over his past nine starts.
Falter was 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA over four relief appearances prior to joining the Philadelphia rotation on May 11 against the Seattle Mariners. After working at least six innings for the first time on July 29, Falter has reached that benchmark five times over his subsequent eight starts.
Falter will make his first career appearance against the Astros.
One day after securing their first postseason berth since 2011, the Phillies had just four regulars in their starting lineup on Tuesday: Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Bryson Scott. Perhaps not coincidentally, Philadelphia didn't record its first hit until the ninth inning when Garrett Stubbs hit a leadoff single.
Philadelphia (87-74) is gearing up for a best-of-three wild-card series against the host St. Louis Cardinals (93-68) beginning on Friday.
Houston (105-56) will open the postseason in the AL Division Series at home on Tuesday against either the Seattle Mariners (89-72) or the Tampa Bay Rays (86-75).
--Field Level Media