For over a week, the Astros bats have been carrying a relatively heavy load. Over the span of eight games, the offense was putting up over seven runs per game including a pair of double-digit outputs. With the bullpen struggling (and tired) even with the best starting rotation in baseball, the bats had to pick up the slack and they did.
But when they began to fall a bit more silent over the weekend, their two aces came to the rescue. On Sunday, Justin Verlander threw his third career no hitter in Toronto (the first player ever to throw a pair of no-nos in the same opposing ballpark) and on Monday, Gerrit Cole got 14 strikeouts and allowed only three hits in a no decision team win at Milwaukee.
Both are the clear favorites for the AL Cy Young Award, though Verlander may have wrapped it up with this no hitter on Sunday. Still, the "anything you can do I can do better" back and forth between the two staff aces has been not only mesmerizing, but has helped the Astros the best record in baseball (if only by a tiebreaker with the Yankees).
Just look at some of the numbers:
Verlander: 2.56 (AL Rank: 1)
Cole: 2.86 (AL Rank: 2)
It is worth noting that Wade Miley is third.
Verlander: 17 (AL Rank: 1 - tied)
Cole: 15 (AL Rank: 4)
Verlander: 0.772 (AL Rank: 1)
Cole: 0.957 (AL Rank: 2)
Verlander: 257 (AL Rank: 1)
Cole: 252 (AL Rank: 2)
You should be starting to get the idea. Basic stats, advanced stats, it doesn't matter. These are the two best pitchers in the American League and there is a good argument to be made they are the best in baseball. That would be remarkable if they weren't in the same starting rotation. They fact that they are on the same staff together along with Zack Greinke and Miley (who has been one of the best five or six pitchers in the AL this season) is hard to fathom. And let's not even bother to talk about the murderers row of hitters they can throw at opposing teams.
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In the last two games, hitting was at a premium. Verlander got the two runs he needed on rookie Abraham Toro's two-run ninth inning blast. Cole had to settle for a no decision when the RBI single from Alex Bregman and solo shot from Yourdan Alvarez wasn't enough to get him the win — fortunately, that fell to George Springer in the tenth.
But because they were so good, they put their teams in position to win on the road, particularly in Milwaukee against a very explosive offensive ball club fighting to make it into the playoffs.
It's difficult not to bask in the incredible no hit performance by Verlander on Sunday. With his third, he joins a short list of some of the best pitchers in the history of the game. And in his starts with the Astros, he's arguably better than any time in his career despite being on the wrong side of 35. But, Cole's utter pitching brilliance throughout the season cannot be overlooked. Routinely touching 100 mph after throwing as many pitches is something no other pitcher in baseball can do.
One lock Hall of Fame pitcher and another building his resume starting one-two for a team that already has an embarrassment of riches in the rotation and the lineup. If fans feel like they should win every fifth day (and perhaps every day in between), you can't blame them. Few have done what the Astros staff aces are doing right now. It's not just amazing, it's historic.