The two pitchers rank first and second in ERA, with Verlander’s 1.85 mark a tick better than Cease’s 1.96. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s just the third matchup of starting pitchers with sub 2.00 ERAs (with a minimum of 20 starts) since MLB lowered the mound in 1969.
“This is like when I was a kid,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said Monday afternoon. “[Sandy] Koufax and Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson. … I’m going to have to be careful and make sure I don’t spectate … because if I was at home, I’d get me a bowl of popcorn and some beer and the only time I would leave is if there was a commercial or in between innings. That’s a classic good one.”
Coming into the night, Verlander is a minus-175 favorite to win his third Cy Young award while Cease has the second shortest odds at plus-275, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
As much as the players are focused on the game, the award isn’t something they’re shying away from either.
“I try not to fixate on it,” Cease said. “We have a lot of other things going on but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind.
“Depending on the results [of the game], it could change things up but there’s still so much season left I don’t think whoever does better tomorrow is the winner. It’s definitely important.”
Cease has allowed one or fewer earned runs in 14 straight starts, the longest such streak since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913. Over that time frame, he has lowered his ERA from 4.26 to 1.96.
Verlander was asked about Cease competing for the Cy Young award after not being chosen for the All-Star Game this year.
“Cy Young is much more important than All-Star, in the scheme of things,” Verlander said. “I know his stuff is tremendous. It seems like he’s put it all together this year.”
Cease will attempt to avenge a loss to the Astros from last year’s division series, won by Houston in four games. Verlander, meanwhile, had his worst performance this season against the White Sox in June. He gave up seven runs in 3.2 innings.
“You learn from mistakes and adjust accordingly,” Verlander said. “I’m not one to dwell too much, but yeah I know they had a good game against me there.”
Verlander is attempting to become the oldest pitcher to lead MLB outright in wins and ERA in a season. No pitcher older than 33 has ever done that. His opponent Tuesday was 10 years old when Verlander debuted in 1995.
“Back in the day he’d start at 92 mph and finish at 101,” Cease said. “I remember watching a lot as a kid and seeing that. The fact that I’m here now and he’s still doing it, it’s pretty rare.”
Cease was asked if he could imagine pitching at as high of a level as Verlander at 39 years old.
“It’s hard to fathom,” Cease responded. “[He] and [Max] Scherzer are showing, if you take care of yourself, then there is no reason your velo or anything has to dip. Guys like that are making it easier to picture for sure.”
Both pitchers expressed excitement over the match-up Tuesday, understanding the spotlight from around the baseball world on the game.
“I don’t think you get a lot of moments like this, where you get two guys having great years like this, to match up,” Verlander said. “Things have to align so it’s very exciting.”