JOHN GRANATO

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.












 

 

 

Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

Rich Schultz / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the Astros took advantage of the current rules allowing teams in September to expand their major-league roster by bringing up some key players from their AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Bringing them up was beneficial for both the Astros and the players, as it gave the team a chance to rest key players down the stretch, fill some holes due to injury, and provide these young prospects a chance to show what level of performance they are capable of producing in the big leagues.

While Houston had a disappointing stretch of games this past week by dropping three-straight to division-rivals Oakland, this month has otherwise been very successful for the Astros. They continue to inch closer to their magic number to clinch the division, as well as staying in step with the Yankees for the best AL and overall record to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. The success in September, in part, has been a result of these young stars being available and ready to contribute when called on.

Toro and Straw have taken advantage of their opportunities

Let's first take a look at some of the guys who are not as high-profile as the other two we'll get to later. Abraham Toro joined the team in late August to fill an infield spot while both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz missed time with injury. His most exciting moment so far was when he delivered the only runs in a tightly contested game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a two-run home run in the top of the ninth which would ultimately be the difference in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander.

While that was one of his most significant offensive highlights, he has also been solid on defense, filling in at third base while Alex Bregman has covered shortstop for a recovering Carlos Correa. While he likely doesn't make the postseason roster, Toro has shown that should the Astros need a third baseman, whether due to injury or possibly in the years to come with players moving on to other clubs, that he could be their guy.

Another contributor this month has been Myles Straw. While I originally had him on the outside looking in with my playoff roster predictions, the frequency at which Houston has used him as a pinch-runner has shown that they consider him an asset for his speed on the basepaths. Straw alone has scored seven of Houston's 90 runs this month, many of which coming after he was put in as a runner late in a game. That's not to say that's his only strength; he's 4-for-9 at the plate this month and has shown strength on defense as well. Considering the bullpen is starting to get healthy, he could very well find himself on the Astros' bench in the playoffs.

Kyle Tucker has finally broken through 


Many, including myself, were highly anticipating Kyle Tucker's call up in 2018. It, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype; as Tucker would end up going 9-for-64 and a .141 average, no home runs, and just 4 RBIs in his 28 games played in the second half of the 2018 season.

This year is an entirely different story, though, as not only did he have another terrific year in AAA to warrant another chance on the major-league roster, he has finally translated his minor-league success to the big leagues. He already has more hits (13) in his thirteen games in September as he did in his 28-game 2018 debut.

Not only has he been able to notch more hits, but he has also recorded his first and second career home runs along with six other RBIs to double his total from last season (eight versus four). Whether it was some bad luck or improved mechanics, the 2019 version of Kyle Tucker is vastly superior to what we saw in 2018.

Yordan Alvarez is simply unreal


While the players mentioned above are all great in their own right, there is still one young player that has stolen the spotlight on Houston's roster. That is Yordan Alvarez. We're running out of superlatives and records for him to exceed. Had Alvarez been with the Astros from the start of the season, we may not only be talking about the best rookie season ever but one of the best overall seasons by a player, period.

Sure, roughly half of Alvarez's dominance this year came against minor-league talent, but he has been just as dominant in the majors since his debut on June 9th. When you combine his overall statistics between the minors and majors this year, you see an incredible .333 average, 48 home runs, and 146 RBIs. For perspective, although he has spent some time away with injury, the absolute best player in the game, Mike Trout, currently sits with a .291 average, 45 home runs, and 104 RBIs.

He has already locked himself in as the sure American League Rookie of the Year, but now the question is: what can he do with a full season in the major leagues? I am looking forward to seeing how he steps up to the big moments he could be put in during the playoffs this year. Can he deliver these same numbers against the absolute best in the game? I think so, but we will have to wait until October to know for sure.

While the Astros certainly have one of the best set of veterans in the game, the last few months have been a chance to see what may be on the horizon for some of Houston's young talent that will likely be contributing towards more success for their team for years to come.

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