It's not often anymore that Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, both as accomplished as any right-handed pitcher, do something for the first time in their careers. Yet the former teammates (with both the Detroit Tigers and the New York Mets) will directly oppose each other for the first time on Wednesday night when the Houston Astros take on the Texas Rangers.
Verlander will receive the ball for the first-place Astros. Scherzer, likewise, will get the nod for the Rangers, who have slipped from first to third place in the American League West standings since acquiring him at the trade deadline. The Rangers are now two games behind the Astros, as well as a game back of the Seattle Mariners. There's a lot riding on Wednesday's tilt, then, which will serve as the final regular-season meeting between the teams.
Here's three things to know about the game.
1. Both have pitched well since deadline deals
Verlander has compiled a 3.86 ERA (111 ERA+) and a 4.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in six starts since joining the Astros. Those numbers are skewed by his most recent outing, a rough showing against the New York Yankees. In his first five starts, he tallied a 2.79 ERA and a strikeout for every inning pitched.
Scherzer has started six times with the Rangers, amassing a 2.21 ERA (140 ERA+) and a 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's averaged six innings per pop, and has worked into the seventh inning on three occasions. All but one of his appearances to date with the Rangers has qualified as a "quality start."
2. Aces' once-tense relationship has improved
It's not often that players will acknowledge a flaw or negative component to their relationship with another player. Both Verlander and Scherzer have done so as of late as a way of showing that they've matured and improved their connection since their Detroit days -- or, a period which executive Dave Dombroski has since described by saying the two were "not the best of buddies," even if they never caused any problems with one another.
On Tuesday, Verlander acknowledged there had been "tension" between the two during that part of their careers -- a dynamic he attributed to them being highly competitive youngsters. He affirmed that they have a better relationship now than they did then.
"A lot has been talked about our past," Verlander told ESPN. "I think it was a bit blown out of proportion. But you know, there was some tension there. And I think we both decided to make an effort coming in to just move past that."
Verlander's comments echo a sentiment previously expressed by Scherzer. "We're at different stages of our careers and more importantly, we're at different stages of our lives," he told FOX Sports in February. "Things will definitely be different now. I really don't see that being an issue whatsoever."
3. The Rangers have been in a funk
As referenced above, the Rangers have been in a tailspin as of late. Forget taking home the division crown, Texas wouldn't even crack the postseason bracket if the regular season ended on Wednesday morning.
The Rangers had a 3.5 game lead as recently as Aug. 15. In three weeks' time, they've seen the division swing by more than five games. That can be explained in part by a 6-14 mark in their last 20 contests, tying them for the third-worst record in the majors over that stretch. The Astros (11-9) and Mariners (14-6) have far outperformed them during that same period.
The Rangers are now in direct competition with the Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays for a wild card spot. Texas will have ample opportunity to close the gap: 11 of the Rangers' remaining 24 games will come against those two teams.