Ben Verlander breaks down Jordan Montgomery’s dominant ALCS Game 1, previews NLCS

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By Samantha Rose

The Texas Rangers have won all six of the games they have played in the 2023 MLB Playoffs thus far, but none was more impressive than their 2-0 victory over the defending World Series champions and their hated in-state rivals, the Astros, in Houston Sunday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Sure, Texas rolled past the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles in the wild-card and divisional rounds, respectively. But to shut out a fearsome Astros lineup appearing in its seventh straight ALCS in its own house? That shows me this team can legitimately go on to win the World Series.

Texas Rangers make a statement on the road in Game 1 of the ALCS

Texas Rangers make a statement on the road in Game 1 of the ALCS

The main factor behind their success in Game 1 of this ALCS was Jordan Montgomery’s incredible performance on the mound. The Rangers starter tossed 6.1 shutout innings with just five hits and one walk allowed while striking out six — an unbelievable performance against a top-five MLB offense in pretty much every single category. 

How did Montgomery do it? He hit his spots, his changeup in particular was phenomenal, and he kept everybody off balance — especially Yordan Álvarez. Since May 18, nobody in baseball had fewer three-strikeout games than Álvarez this season. Guess who struck out in all three of his plate appearances against Montgomery on Sunday.

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I faced Montgomery dozens of times during my minor league career, when he was a top New York Yankees prospect. I faced him so many times that I could tell when he was on, and I could tell when he was off. Tonight, I could tell immediately that he was all the way on. 

“100% of everything he does, he wants to be better,” Rangers closer José Leclerc told me after the game. “I hope we get to sign him back next year.”

Montgomery can’t throw a triple-digit fastball with breaking balls that also reach above 90mph. His success comes when he hits his spot and has his changeup working, as he has one of the best changeups that I have ever seen. We saw the best version of Montgomery tonight. He made Alex Bregman look silly a couple of times with that changeup, and made Álvarez look silly with his curveball. 

Rangers’ Jordan Montgomery strikes out six over 6.1 scoreless innings vs. Astros

Rangers' Jordan Montgomery strikes out six over 6.1 scoreless innings vs. Astros

The best part about that if you’re a Rangers fan? You have an ace going forward in these playoffs — and it’s not Jacob deGrom of Max Scherzer. It’s Montgomery, discarded by the Yankees in a one-for-one trade for Harrison Bader just a year and a half ago.

If you’re an Astros fan, you have plenty of reason for optimism. Justin pitched really well tonight, Montgomery simply outpitched him. Plus, the Astros are really, really good on the road traditionally in the playoffs, and that continued this year when they won both of their games in Minnesota in the ALDS. These guys have a mountain of experience going into hostile environments in the playoffs and being the villains, and they have embraced that role.

But there are reasons for Astros fans to be concerned as well — chief of which is that the mighty Rangers offense has not even flexed its muscles yet. Texas scored just two runs this game, and neither came from their highly paid superstars Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, who were the biggest reasons why the Rangers had one of the best first-half run differentials in MLB history this season. 

Texas Rangers’ José Leclerc on their 2-0 Game 1 win & Jordan Montgomery’s start

Texas Rangers' José Leclerc on their 2-0 Game 1 win & Jordan Montgomery's start

Evan Carter, the 21-year-old rookie, continued to excel with both his bat and his glove, but I doubt any of us thought his double and then coming around to score on Jonah Heim’s single would hold up as the game’s winning run. Yet the Rangers proved tonight they have another gear with their pitching and defense that makes them all the more dangerous, especially once the series shifts back to Globe Life Field. 

Before then, though, the Rangers will send Nathan Eovaldi to the mound in Game 2 on Monday. Eovaldi has been amazing for the Rangers so far in these playoffs, adding to his resume as a dominant postseason pitcher. However, the Astros have routinely hit him well — Eovaldi has a 4.32 ERA and .828 OPS allowed against Houston — and the one postseason series in which he struggled was right here in the 2021 ALCS as a member of the Boston Red Sox, during which he allowed eight earned runs in 10.1 innings to these same Astros.

After that game Monday, we will head to Philadelphia for Game 1 of the NLCS between the Phillies and upstart Arizona Diamondbacks. The cards will be stacked against the snakes, especially against that incredibly hostile environment at Citizens Bank Park, the best playoff environment I have ever seen in person. However, I do believe 23-year-old Corbin Carroll can be the perfect leader for the team. Nothing fazes him, and he can create chaos on the basepaths. The pressure will be on the Phillies and star catcher J.T. Realmuto, who is one of the best in the sport at his position, to take that ability away from them.

Philadelphia Phillies vs Arizona Diamondbacks Game 1 NLCS preview

Philadelphia Phillies vs Arizona Diamondbacks Game 1 NLCS preview

My co-host Alex Curry and I will be with you live from Houston before and after Game 2 of the ALCS on Monday, and we’ll be coming to you live on “Flippin’ Bats” before and after every ALCS and World Series game! Make sure to follow us on all major social media platforms @FlippinBatsPod and subscribe to us on YouTube, the FOX Sports App, and wherever you get your podcasts. We’ve still got a lot of playoff baseball left, and I can’t wait for what’s next.

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