The Houston Astros are 5-4 to start the 2020 season, putting them firmly in a slog of around-.500 teams that, if things hold up over 60 games, should cruise into the postseason under the expanded 16-team format, either as the eventual winner of the AL West or as one of five — FIVE! — wild card teams in the American League. So the stress of having October baseball in Houston for the fourth straight autumn should be minimal.
However, the chances of the playoff run going DEEP into October, like as in "Game 7 of the World Series" deep, which it's gone two of the last three years, took a major hit the day after Justin Verlander's first and only start of the season over a week ago. According to multiple reports from Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, reports that were denied by manager Dusty Baker and Verlander himself, Verlander is done for the season with an arm injury.
Baker and Verlander claim that it's a forearm strain that will be reevaluated in the next week or so, but I doubt Rome goes all in on a report like that without some pretty good intel. (He cited two sources in his reports, for what it's worth.) Needless to say, an injury to Verlander would be soul crushing. He has the one irreplaceable skill set on this team — front line, ace pitcher horse, who can throw a complete game in the postseason, if you need him to.
Last year, the Astros had two of those guys — Velrander and Gerrit Cole. Now, it would appear, they will have none, with all due respect to future Hall of Famers Zack Greinke and the just-back-from-elbow-surgery Lance McCullers. So where does Verlander's injury stack up against other season enders for Houston athletes in the last decade? By my count, here are the most devastating in the last ten years:
4 (tie). J.J. WATT, 2016 or 2017
Go ahead and take your pick. Watt's 2016 season ender was his second back surgery, taking him down after just three weeks of that season, and then the next season, in 2017, he lasted five games before a fluky, gruesome leg injury. Watt's two season enders from those years rank behind the rest of this list, because they didn't cost the team a title, theoretically, but they are absolutely on the radar, because for the first time we started to see what we never thought we'd see — J.J. Watt is mortal.
3. MATT SCHAUB, 2011
This one hurt at the time, and the pain may actually get WORSE with this one with each passing season, because with every year that the Texans go out with barely a whimper in the second round of the playoffs, we are reminded that the 2011 was definitely the best assembly of Texans talent on team history, held back only by quarterback play once Schaub's season ended after Week 11 with a broken foot. T.J. Yates was gallant in his efforts to replace Schaub, as a rookie, but it's hard to imagine what that playoff loss in Baltimore may have looked like had Schaub been healthy (and probably not thrown three picks like Yates did that day).
2. DESHAUN WATSON, 2017
This one hurt badly for a couple fo reasons. First, Watson was the story of the league at that time, setting all sorts of records for productivity through six games, and being a few wonky O'Brien decisions away from a 5-1 record in those six starts. (Instead, he was 3-3 after taking the Patriots and Seahawks to the limit, on the road, no less.) Also, that Thursday when Watson tore his ACL in practice was the day after the Astros won the World Series, meaning we got to experience unbridled joy for less than 24 hours before the sorts gods punched us in the face. Damn you, sports gods.
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1. CHRIS PAUL, 2018 playoffs
Man, how much changes if Paul doesn't pull his hamstring at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in 2018? If he just stays healthy, the 65-17 Rockets likely close out a legendary Warriors dynasty in Game 6 or Game 7, and go on to win a title over LeBron James and the Cavs in the NBA Finals. Paul is probably still a Rocket (and a legend in this city forever) if that happens, and James Harden would have been the alpha dog on a team that vanquished the greatest team of the 2000's AND LeBron James in one postseason, in the same season where he won the league MVP. Oddly, Paul's injury probably affected Harden more than anybody else, but it also gets Paul inside the velvet rope of NBA champions, too. This one really hurt.
All of that said, I think this Verlander injury, if it is indeed season ending as Rome has reported, that tops the list for me, largely because fans and media around the rest of MLB will be absolutely swimming gleefully in a pool of schadenfreude over the "cheating" Astros getting their karmic comeuppance.
And that, my friends, is just stomach turning. Get well, Justin. Please.