Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander spent the majority of the second half of the regular season doing his best to deflect the onslaught of praise heaped upon his shoulders, instead focusing squarely on what matters most: how he would perform in the postseason.

Verlander (18-4, 1.75 ERA) is the frontrunner to win his third American League Cy Young Award thanks to a remarkable bounce-back campaign after Tommy John surgery limited him to one start over the 2020 and ’21 seasons. But of greater significance to Verlander and the Astros is his status as their No. 1 starter in the AL Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, set to begin Tuesday.

Verlander is scheduled to make his 31st career postseason start Tuesday. He has experienced the highs of postseason success and the lows of playoff failures, all of which have served as a prologue to him leading another exceptional Astros staff. Despite this, expectations remain hard to quantify.

“I don’t know how it’s different this time,” said Verlander, who went 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in six starts against the Mariners this season. “I think this season, which is the only real data I can draw from, is just allowing myself to be more present and just enjoy the ride, and not try to overdo pressure, just accept it, know what it is and enjoy whatever happens. It’s been a fun ride thus far and hopefully, it takes us all the way to a championship.”

Foremost in the Astros’ thoughts is how they will perform following a five-day layoff between their regular-season finale and Game 1 of this ALDS. Seattle, which went 7-12 against the Astros this season, surprised Toronto in the wild-card round last weekend, while Houston rested after taking the AL West, downtime that might not prove beneficial.

“We really don’t know the effects of it, and we really don’t know the effects of being off,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ll find out here soon. The one thing that it’s done is it’s let us set our pitching as much as anything. That’s the one positive.”

Similar to Houston, Seattle right-hander Logan Gilbert (13-6, 3.20) — the Mariners’ scheduled starter for Game 1 — is coming off an extended rest. Had the Mariners not rallied from a seven-run deficit in Game 2 of their wild-card series against the Blue Jays, Gilbert would have been slated to start the finale of that series. Instead, he’ll get the ball Tuesday having last pitched on Sept. 30.

“It’s a big change knowing that we usually go on five days and now getting those extra days,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been off the mound a couple times because I thought I might be starting in Toronto. And just wait to see how everything plays out. So it takes a little adjustment, but for good reason, I had to wait nine or 10 days because we ended up winning the series and being here.

“So it’s all good changes and nothing bad. It’s, if anything, good to get a little extra rest, especially at this point in the year.”

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the Mariners, who clinched their first postseason bid in 21 years with a walk-off home run and rallied in dramatic fashion to oust the Blue Jays in Toronto. Riding that wave of emotion can yield additional excitement or a crash landing without a reset.

“Excited that we were able to get two days off, though, because I think coming off of that to be able to get that extra day is huge recovery-wise for the body and the mind,” Mariners second baseman Adam Frazier said. “So it’s a good refresher today, get our feet wet here in Houston, and then hit the ground running again (Tuesday).”

–Field Level Media