Fastball-hunting Indians go dark against Verlander's heat

Tribe whiff their way to 1-0 ALDS deficit

Alex Hooper
October 05, 2018 - 7:05 pm
Oct 5, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) delivers a pitch during the first inning in game one of the 2018 ALDS playoff baseball series against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park.

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians ran into an American League Cy Young contender on Friday, but Indians fans were left worried that it wasn’t all the pitching that left them down 1-0 in the ALDS.

Justin Verlander had the Tribe offense befuddled in Game 1, no-hitting the visitors through 5 innings until catcher Yan Gomes broke things up with an opposite field single in the 6th.

The Indians worked out two runs against the righty in the 6th as he neared 100 pitches, but failed to post much against the Astros bullpen. Michael Brantley’s 9th inning single off of Roberto Osuna was the only hit once Verlander departed.

By the end of the game, the Astros had hit more home runs than the Indians had base hits, 4-3. Friday marked the fourth straight playoff game in which the Indians recorded five-or-fewer hit, and was their fourth consecutive postseason loss.

The two teams split the six hardest-hit balls of the night, with Josh Donaldson’s game-ending lineout claiming the top spot. The Indians went 0-3 on their share of the top six, with launch angles of 1, -2, and -13, while the Astros were 3-3 with two home runs and a double at 24, 19 and 14 degrees.

Verlander was predictable surgical with his fastball, especially at the top of the zone. Of his 12 whiffs, the righty picked up eight with his four-seamer that averaged 96.2 mph. Five of those eight swinging strikes came in the upper half of the zone.

“He had power. He had a breaking ball,” Manager Terry Francona said postgame. “When you're throwing 96, 97, and you can throw a 3-2 breaking ball, he presented a lot of challenges for our hitters.”

On the contrary, it was not as if Verlander was painting the corners all night. The 35-year-old left plenty four-seamers over the heart of the plate, and Indians hitters put six of those in play. Gomes’ 6th inning single was the lone fastball driven by an Indians hitter, with the others producing three flyouts, a popout and a hard groundout.

The struggles were out of character for the Indians, who entered the game as the third-best fastball hitting team in baseball, according to FanGraphs’ weighted fastball value. Their 84.5 wFB and .64 wFB per pitch trailed only the New York Yankees (84.5/.83) and Boston Red Sox (84.5/.64).

Of course, by that same metric, Verlander holds the best fastball in the league at 30.9/1.47.

“His fastball today was electric against a really good fastball-hitting club,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said. “He landed both breaking balls. If he'd have had a change-up, he probably doesn't get into the mess he got into in the sixth inning.

“He is a big-time, big adrenaline pitcher that never ceases to surprise you or amaze you. It's always -- he seems to be always there for you. These starts matter to him, and he shows it, wears his emotion on his sleeve. He's ultra-focused and does a really good job of executing a game plan.”