Astros will have some tough decisions on postseason roster

Where Dallas Keuchel pitches could be a big question. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the Astros look to repeat as champs they go into this postseason with a better rotation and bullpen than last year but not nearly as stout offensively. That makes for some tough decisions for A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow as they set up their starters and lineup against Cleveland.

One thing that is not in doubt is who will start Game 1 for the Astros. After an unusually rough August Justin Verlander is back in that same form he took into last postseason posting a 3-0 record and a 1.33 ERA in September. Verlander vs Kluber will be the premier matchup of the divisional round.

It will be interesting to see what Hinch does in Game 2. Even though he is without a doubt the Astros second best pitcher I don’t think it’s a lock that Gerrit Cole will get the start. A lot of managers like the righty lefty righty approach to their rotation. Seeing the ball from the same side in consecutive games can get hitters in a groove. I’m not sure exactly how overstated that is but it’s been an old baseball wives’ tale for time immemorial and you can’t argue with wives’ tales.

Plus Hinch probably has a soft spot for Dallas Keuchel. Before JV got here Keuchel was his ace and they have been through plenty of big games together. As free agency looms he might show deference towards Dallas, not that it’ll help re-sign him. Money’s the sticking point there. The question for Hinch is whether or not Keuchel will step up in the big situation like he has in the past as opposed to the guy who’s given up 15 earned runs in his last four starts.

Then there’s Charlie Morton’s shoulder issue. Is he going to be good enough to go? Is Josh James an option as a playoff starter so young into his major league career? If Cole goes in Game 2 is James possibly the Game 3 starter and Keuchel goes in Game 4 or do you skip Keuchel altogether if you’re down two games to one? James has been better than Keuchel this month but will he be with all that playoff pressure? Some tough calls for Hinch.

My bet is that his rotation will be Verlander Cole Keuchel Morton with James replacing Morton if Morton can’t go.

As far as the bullpen goes Osuna is your closer until he proves otherwise but Ryan Pressly is your best option. If it’s the 8th inning in a close game and their 3,4,5 are coming up Hinch will be best served going to Pressly. If Brent Strom really did fix Hector Rondon’s mechanics then that’ll be a Godsend for Hinch. You can’t leave Tony Sipp or Collin McHugh out of the equation. They’ve been money all year and Joe Smith deserves some playoff innings the way he’s pitched down the stretch. You can certainly see Brad Peacock getting the call when they need a big strikeout. Hinch has that confidence in him.

What Hinch does with the lineup will be interesting. The Indians will throw all right handers. As crazy as it may be Tony Kemp is a better option at the plate than Carlos Correa is. Let me say that again because it just doesn’t sound right. Tony Kemp is a better option at the plate than Carlos Correa is. Wow. Can’t believe I’m saying that but it’s true.

If you were to objectively look at this team this year without preconceived notions of what they’ve done in years past or where you drafted them, here’s your starting lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs:

George Springer   CF

Jose Altuve           2B

Alex Bregman       3B

Marwin Gonzalez  SS

Yuli Gurriel            1B

Josh Reddick        RF

Tyler White           DH

Brian McCann        C

Tony Kemp            LF

I’ve got Marwin at short because they’re better defensively with Bregman at third. McCann is a coin flip over the Machete but he gets the call because of his experience in big games.

That’s the optimal lineup but Hinch will probably go with Correa. He’s loyal like that. As bad as Josh Reddick was last postseason with his .413 OPS he still started every game of the playoffs. Correa means a lot to this organization. It had to be hard enough for Hinch to drop him to fifth then sixth in the order. Not starting him in the playoffs would be a crushing blow to his psyche. Plus I think you have to believe that at some point he will bounce back and be Carlos Correa again. He’s too good to be this bad.

Then there’s Lance McCullers Jr. He looked pretty good in his first outing in Toronto. Hit 94 on the gun. That’s huge but is there enough time for him to get ready for the playoffs? Sure would be nice to have that curveball available but how much command will he have with all this time missed? I can’t believe he will be on the divisional round roster, maybe the ALCS.

Here’s how I see the 25 man against the Indians:

IF:    Gurriel, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, White, Gonzalez

OF:  Springer, Reddick, Kemp, Marisnick

C:    McCann, Maldonado

DH:  Ga ttis

SP:  Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, Morton

RP:  Osuna, Rondon, Pressly, Sipp, McHugh, Peacock,                    

       James, Smith

Will Harris will be a tough call for Hinch. He hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 12 outings lowering his ERA by over a point since Aug. 14 and he’s got big game experience, but there are only 25 spots and having that 100 mile an hour Josh James fastball at his disposal might be too much for Hinch to pass up. If Morton can’t go Harris will get the call. Otherwise I just don’t know how you fit him onto the roster.

This certainly isn’t a better team offensively than last year’s team but it is much better on the mound. That Indians rotation is no joke either but their bullpen is. Get to the bullpen early and the Astros can breeze into the ALCS.

Astros in 4.

Thank you and good night.




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