Fresh off capturing their first pennant in more than a decade, the Astros enter the World Series with their pair of aces ready to go against the National League champion Dodgers.Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced that Dallas Keuchel will oppose Clayton Kershaw in a battle of Cy Young Award-winning left-handers
Fresh off capturing their first pennant in more than a decade, the Astros enter the World Series with their pair of aces ready to go against the National League champion Dodgers.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced that Dallas Keuchel will oppose Clayton Kershaw in a battle of Cy Young Award-winning left-handers in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Houston will follow with right-hander Justin Verlander, the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, in Game 2 on Wednesday. Los Angeles' Game 2 starter is yet to be announced.
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Keuchel, 29, will make his first World Series appearance alongside many of his Astros teammates who developed together through the organization's rebuild. The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner returned to form this year after injuries dampened his 2016 campaign, finishing 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA and an MLB-best 68 percent ground-ball rate. Keuchel's 2.59 ERA in five career postseason starts ranks among the elite, and the southpaw already has shown his ability to rise to the biggest moments in front of a national audience.
"It took a while," Keuchel said of Houston's journey from cellar-dwellers to AL champions, "but man, the homegrown talent really got better, and that's all you can ask for -- a chance. A couple guys took full advantage of their chances, we hit on some Draft picks and courted some players, and now we're here. It makes those lean years that much better."
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Verlander, meanwhile, needs little introduction to those who have followed baseball over the past decade -- and especially not after the right-hander put together a vintage series against the Yankees that ranks among the game's all-time best October performances. Verlander tossed a complete-game, 124-pitch effort with 13 strikeouts against the Yanks in Game 2 to give the Astros a 2-0 edge in the ALCS. Then, with Houston down 3-2, Verlander posted seven more shutout innings in Game 6 to help extend the series toward its eventual Game 7 triumph.
Verlander's mettle in postseason play is unquestioned at this stage of his career. His Game 6 victory, for example, tied him with Curt Schilling as the only pitchers to win at least four postseason elimination games in their career. But there is still one hurdle left for Verlander: Success in the World Series, where he's struggled to a 7.20 ERA in three losses as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
"It's not easy to get here," said Verlander after Houston's 4-0 win over the Yankees in Game 7 on Saturday, "and I don't take any of this for granted. This is what we play for."
Keuchel and Verlander will have their work cut out for them. The Dodgers' lineup finished with the lowest chase rate of any team in baseball at 23.7 percent, per Statcast™, and grinded out many an at-bat on its way to rolling through the NLDS and NLCS with just one loss. But the Astros' pair of former Cy Young Award winners will carry plenty of motivation -- not only to build upon their own legacies, but to deliver the city of Houston its long-awaited first World Series title.
"These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back," Verlander said. "Winning these games and just playing in the World Series. And hopefully winning the World Series."
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.