For Cole, best case in Cy race is 'split' with JV

Righty puts flourish on 'incredible' season with another record

September 30th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- and ran their fascinating race for the American League Cy Young Award full-speed ahead and through the finish line, setting the stage for what should be a difficult vote for the baseball writers, though there won’t be a wrong choice.

A day after Verlander notched his 3,000th career strikeout and hit 300 punchouts in a season for the first time while winning his 21st game, Cole set a Major League record by recording his ninth consecutive double-digit strikeout game with 10 K’s over five innings in the Astros’ 8-5 regular-season-ending win over the Angels at Angel Stadium on Sunday.

“It was very important for him personally and the entire team was pulling for him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I put the starting guys in there for at least half the game. We wanted to get him the lead, we wanted the 20th win for him -- the 10 punchouts and [nine] straight in double-digits. Just an incredible year for him and incredible day because he was ultra-focused on what he needed to do.”

Among the countless records set by the Astros this year, perhaps the most impressive stat is that they became the first team to lead the Majors with the most strikeouts by a pitching staff (1,671) and the fewest K’s by the hitters (1,166). They’ll have a dangerous lineup and a tremendous rotation in the playoffs, anchored by Verlander and Cole, who were the two best pitchers in the AL this year.

Cole went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .186 batting average against and 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings. Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .172 batting average against and 300 strikeouts in 223 innings. He also threw his third no-hitter.

“[Verlander has] put in a magnificent amount of work and is one of the all-time greats,” Cole said. “What a blessing to be able to see him get 300 strikeouts and get 3,000 strikeouts on the same night.”

As far as his Cy Young case when compared to Verlander, Cole was diplomatic in his answer about who should win.

“The best-case scenario would be we split,” he said.

After a sluggish start, Cole went 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his final 22 starts of the season, striking out 226 batters in 146 2/3 innings during a span in which he was the most dominant pitcher in the game. He said he was burned by a few bad pitches in April and May and worked hard to tighten things up and evaluate himself honestly.

“When it’s all said and done, you’re making more better pitches than not, but you need to find a way to shut down the inning or to make better pitches in big situations,” he said. “I just stick with the process and we end up here.”

He posted 21 double-digit strikeout games in 2019, smashing the club record. He’s the fourth pitcher with as many as 21 double-digit strikeout games in a season, joining Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. The record is 23 by Johnson (three times) and Ryan (once).

“I never really envision the numbers or anything,” Cole said. “I envisioned getting better and I believe I did. What follows from that is what it is. It’s been a pretty special year really for all of us, and we’re looking to continue that moving forward.”

Behind Cole and homers from Aledmys Díaz, George Springer (4-for-4) and Yuli Gurriel on Sunday, the Astros finished their best regular season in club history with a 107-55 record. They have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and will play host to the AL Wild Card Game winner (either the Rays or the A’s) in Game 1 of the Division Series on Friday.

“It’s great to win this last game. It’s great for Gerrit,” Hinch said. “A lot of our guys are happy to get to the finish line of the regular season. We’re looking forward to a very fun postseason, but this team is incredible. And we played all the way to the last out. It’s a tribute to the guys.”

Houston set a franchise record with 288 homers, including 58 in September. The Astros homered in the final 25 games of the season, which is also a franchise record for consecutive games with a homer. José Altuve (31), Alex Bregman (41), Gurriel (31) and Springer (39) each set career highs for homers in 2019.

“It was an awesome season for us -- a franchise record for wins,” Bregman said. “We had a great season as a team and a lot of guys really performed well. That’s what it takes to win the games. … Everybody in this room, we should be proud of it. Now it means nothing. It’s time to go out there and win the postseason.”