Justin Verlander’s 3,000th strikeout is another feather in Hall of Fame cap

Any doubts about Justin Verlander’s Hall of Fame credentials should have disappeared on Saturday night.

With his fourth inning strikeout Los Angeles Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun, Verlander became the 18th pitcher in major league history to record 3,000 career strikeouts. His milestone punchout came with a unique twist, however, as the curveball skipped away from catcher Robinson Chirinos. The wild pitch allowed Calhoun to reach first base, but the strikeout was recorded just the same.

Two innings later, Verlander would strike out Kole Calhoun again to reach another milestone. For the first time in his storied career, Verlander reached 300 strikeouts in a single season. Teammate Gerrit Cole had already notched 300 strikeouts this season, which puts them in exclusive company.

Verlander’s 3,000th strikeout represents another medal on the chest for one of the most decorated pitchers in baseball history.

The 36 year old has an MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, World Series championship and eight All-Star appearances to his name. Excluding his MVP and Cy Young season in 2011, Verlander has only gotten better in the past two years.

In two full seasons with Houston, Verlander has amassed a 15.0 WAR.

He didn’t exactly decline over his latter years with the Detroit Tigers -- having finished second in Cy Young voting during his last full season in Detroit -- but he also went five years between All-Star appearances until 2018.

Even though he wasn’t starting from scratch, Verlander was revitalized in Houston. Beginning with an incredible stretch run, an ALCS MVP award and, eventually, his first World Series victory in 2017, he’s posted his best season in nearly a decade this year. He also recorded his third no-hitter of his career on Sept. 1 in Toronto, becoming the eighth pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter with multiple teams.

This season’s American League Cy Young Award race is more or less a toss up between Verlander and his Houston teammate Gerrit Cole, who is scheduled to pitch the season finale against the Angels on Sunday.

Their numbers are incredibly similar, only Cole has more strikeouts in fewer innings pitched, so the edge probably goes to him. But Verlander should be looking at his eighth top-five finish in the Cy Young voting.

He’s owed $66 million from the Astros over the next two seasons, and will have to anchor the Houston rotation if Cole departs in free agency.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Verlander proves that the modern game can catch up to a veteran, but he’s continued to carve out success anyway. His 36 home runs allowed are a career high and the fifth most among qualified pitchers this season.

For the most part, he’s clearly been able to work around the long ball. But an Aug. 21 game against his former club showed there’s a real downside to Verlander’s new-age problem. Verlander threw a complete game against the MLB-worst Tigers, allowed two hits and struck out 11. But both hits were solo shots, and the Astros lost 2-1.

If he can iron out his home run issues, he could be realistically be the best pitcher in baseball -- a title which some may argue he already holds -- during his age 37 season next year. Of course, it helps to pitch in an organization that knows how to work its magic on talented starters.

Verlander and Dodgers great Don Newcombe are the only pitchers to ever win all three major awards. Newcombe, who died this February at the age of 92, is one of the Hall of Fame’s all-time greatest snubs.

It’s unlikely that the voting committee will make that mistake with Verlander, whose resume is certainly better than Newcombe’s. On top of that, Verlander is showing no signs of slowing down.

He might not even need to, but if Verlander can stay on anything close to his current pace for the remainder of his current contract, the next debate won’t be about his Hall of Fame credentials. But it will instead be about whether he’ll get in on the first ballot.

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