The Astros won 107 regular-season games in 2019 but fell one game short of a World Series title. They want to correct that mistake in 2020.

No team in MLB wants the 2020 season to begin as badly as the Houston Astros. They enjoyed an excellent 2019 regular season but came up one win short of October glory against the Nationals. This is a team that desperately wants to get back out on the field to put those painful memories behind them.

Of course, repeating last year’s brilliant regular season is going to be difficult without Gerrit Cole in the starting rotation. His decision to become a Yankee in free agency puts additional pressure on every other member of the team’s pitching staff. No player will feel the heat quite like Justin Verlander.

Cole’s departure takes away any margin for error Verlander might have enjoyed previously. It also gives Verlander the distinction of becoming the Astros most important player for the upcoming 60-game season.

With all due respect to guys like Wade Miley and Brad Peacock, Verlander has to pitch like a borderline MVP candidate to make this rotation formidable enough to be a legitimate World Series title contender. That means he has to pitch effectively every time he takes the hill in 2020. Anything short of greatness is going to put a ton of pressure on Houston’s lineup to carry a heavy load for the full 60-game campaign.

The talent up and down the Astros lineup prevents luminaries like Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, or Jose Altuve from feeling massive heat on a game-by-game basis. Any member of that trio can go through a slump without torpedoing the team’s chances of winning games at a healthy clip.

If Verlander falters at the top-end of the team’s rotation it could spell disaster for the franchise’s hopes of winning in 2020. They need the 37-year-old to pitch to last season’s ERA of 2.58. He obviously won’t have 34 starts to work with this year, but he needs to maximize his performance over 10 or so appearances.

Betting on a pitcher with so many innings under his belt is a major gamble for a team with legitimate World Series aspirations. The Astros don’t have a realistic alternative though. They need Verlander to pitch like an ace if they’re going to atone for last year’s shortcomings. Anything less than that could leave Houston on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Justin Verlander is the Houston Astros’ most important player in 2020’s 60-game campaign.

Next: MLB and MLBPA agree to 2020 regular season

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