The Houston Astros turn to Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series in an attempt to avoid the same fate the St. Louis Cardinals suffered in the National League Championship Series.
Just like the Cardinals, the Astros lost their series opener and are relying on a veteran hurler to level the best-of-seven competition.
The 36-year-old is 3-1 in the ALCS with Houston, and if he wins, A.J. Hinch's team could be in line to steal Game 3 at Yankee Stadium through Gerrit Cole.
The Yankees are countering with James Paxton, who fanned eight batters in his ALDS start against Minnesota. If the left-handed pitcher gets the same support Masahiro Tanaka had in Game 1, the Yankees could follow the Washington Nationals' lead as a road team with two LCS victories.
ALCS Game 2 Information
Start Time: 8:08 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go or Fox Sports app
Ticket Info: Tickets can be found on StubHub.
Houston 5, New York 2
Verlander enters his 28th postseason appearance off one of his worst performances of 2019, as he lasted 3.2 innings in an ALDS Game 4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on short rest.
The good news is he is back on a regular schedule for Sunday's start. In his three ALCS home outings as an Astro, Verlander let up five earned runs over 22 frames. In 2017, he limited the Yankees to one run on 10 hits while striking out 21 batters.
Houston needs that type of showing to stop New York's bats from creating more momentum in the series, and it is confident it will get that, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
"We've been in this situation before," Houston's Jose Altuve said. "Tomorrow we have Justin, and we all know how confident and good we feel about him. It's just one game. It's a seven-game series. We still have a lot of baseball to play."
In Game 1, the Yankees earned 13 hits off Zack Greinke and four relievers compared to three recorded by the home side.
The key for Verlander is to keep New York off balance in order to provide his teammates with the chance to win the game by way of a small run total.
Verlander conceded three earned runs and struck out 15 in each of his two regular-season starts versus the Yankees. In those matchups, the Houston hitters provided him with 10 runs in the first five innings, including all nine in the June 23 meeting at Yankee Stadium.
That strategy requires George Springer and Carlos Correa to break out of slumps. The duo is 6-of-47 in the postseason. If Springer reaches base, it opens up runners-in-scoring-position opportunities for Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.
Altuve has a hit in each of the six postseason games, but he has driven in five runs because of the lack of activity above the No. 3 hole.
But earning runs off Paxton could be difficult, as he let a single player cross the plate in his June 21 start versus Houston. The seven-strikeout showing could help the southpaw in Game 2, as he noted to the New York Daily News' Deesha Thosar:
"Having past success against them is great. Obviously that can help build some confidence. But tomorrow is its own day, and I'm going to have to go out there and do my thing and execute pitches. They're a really good team so I'm going to have to do what I do and not leave anything over the middle for them."
Houston has hope because it tagged Paxton for five earned runs in four innings April 10 at Minute Maid Park. In eight career appearances in Houston, the Yankees' starter conceded 19 earned runs and walked 14 batters.
If Altuve and Bregman receive support from other parts of the lineup, Houston can inch ahead and allow Verlander to cruise on the hill. If that occurs, the hosts could win by a few runs. In Verlander's seven postseason wins for Houston, the average margin of victory is four.