Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maria Lysaker/UPI/Shutterstock (13454765c) MLB postseason signage is seen during the workout session at Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas on Monday, October 10, 2022. The Houston Astros will play the Seattle Mariners at the ALDS on October 11, 2022. MLB Mariners Astros, Houston, Texas, United States – 10 Oct 2022
The Houston Astros don’t have to state their roster until Tuesday officially, but here is a look ahead at the decisions the team is facing.
A 106-win team doesn’t generally have a whole lot of difficult roster decisions to make, and the Astros certainly don’t. However, in a short playoff series, one single hot batter or cold pitcher could swing the series in a manner that can make it difficult to overcome (just ask the Mets).
Here is a look at the Astros potential postseason roster, the decisions expected to be faced, and a little reasoning behind some of the possible choices. Even though this is only a five-game series, the Astros played with 13 pitchers and 13 position players all season, and I don’t expect that to change.
The Starting Pitchers: LOCKS
Lance McCullers Jr.
This should be the Astros four man rotation for this (and every) postseason series. Verlander is a virtual lock for his third Cy Young award after leading the AL in wins, win %, ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and fewest H/9. What Verlander has done in his age 39 season coming off Tommy John surgery is completely unprecedented. Though his standard working velocity may have dipped slightly, and he doesn’t strike out as many batters as he did previously, he still struck out more than a batter per inning and demonstrated he can still ratchet it up to 99 MPH when he needs to.
Groundball machine and All-Star Framber Valdez led the league in innings pitched, complete games, batters faced, fewest HR/9, and set an MLB record for most consecutive quality starts in a single season with 25. Valdez is not known as a strikeout pitcher but strikes out nearly a batter an inning this season, which is in line with his career norms.
Lance McCullers Jr. took far longer to make his season debut than expected but has shown he still has the dominant form that convinced the Astros to give him a long-term deal. He finished 4-2 in 8 starts with a dominant 2.27 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning. The Astros felt the crater size hole left in their rotation in the postseason last year when McCullers went down with an injury after he ascended to the role of staff ace in the absence of Verlander. With both Verlander and McCullers back and healthy, the Astros have the most formidable foursome in baseball as a postseason rotation.
Cristian Javier is often overlooked compared to his bigger-name cohorts, but his performance has been dominant. He finished the season 11-9 with a 2.54 ERA in 30 appearances (25 starts). The Astros did an excellent job of keeping his innings under control, and Javier responded with an elite 11.7 K/9 rate and a 0.948 WHIP. Javier whiffed a career-high 194 batters in only 148.2 IP. Houston is the only team in the AL where Javier is considered a “back of the rotation” starter.
The Bullpen: LOCKS
Despite dealing with some early season injury woes, Ryan Pressly rebounded to post a sub-3 ERA, over 12 K/9, and 33 saves. Pressly is one of the more consistent closers in the game.
Ryne Stanek found some extra giddy-up on the fastball this season, often hitting triple digits. The result was a 1.15 ERA and over 10 K/9 as one of manager Dusty Baker’s most trusted relievers.
Rafael Montero became the team’s backup closer with a very strong season. He threw the most innings in the Astros pen this year at 68.1 with a 2.37 ERA, and 14 saves filling in for Pressly when he was unavailable. Montero once considered a “throw-in” in last year’s deal that brought Kendall Graveman to the Astros in exchange for Joe Smith and Abraham Toro, is probably Dusty’s second most trusted reliever behind Pressly.
Offseason signing Hector Neris was brought in as another reliever with some closing experience and a guy who misses bats. Neris struck out nearly 11 batters per 9 innings and had the second most appearances (70) out of the Astros pen this year behind only Montero (71).
Bryan Abreu finally took the step forward the Astros have been looking for from him since 2020. Abreu has absolutely filthy stuff and can get the heater up to 100MPH. Previously haunted by concentration lapses that would see him get himself into trouble and then be unable to escape it, Abreu proved himself over the course of the season as a reliever Baker could go to in high-leverage situations with his swing-and-miss stuff. Abreu finished the season with a 1.94 ERA and an astonishing 13.1 K/9.
That leaves four spots in the bullpen, and this is who I believe to be the most worthy:
Brown was far and away the most dominant pitcher in the PCL before getting the call-up to the big league club. Brown was 9-4 at Sugar Land with a league-leading 2.55 ERA (the next-best qualifying ERA was 3.94), a 1.085 WHIP, and almost 11.5 K/9. Upon being called up, Brown continued to deliver, posting a 2-0 record with an 0.89 ERA in 20.1 IP and still striking out nearly 10 batters per 9. His ability to go multiple innings or be used in a tandem situation makes him even more valuable.
Luis Garcia finished the season strong, allowing only 6 ER in his last 29 IP (1.86 ERA), spanning five starts. Garcia was also afforded more rest starting in September, and the results were extremely positive. Like Brown, Garcia can give multiple innings and be used in a tandem situation. The tandem situation could be likely, considering both Javier and McCullers tend to rack up pitch counts quickly. Most teams would have to go to the soft underbelly of their pen or risk burning a back-end reliever early if a starter could only go five innings; the Astros have more pitching depth than anyone in baseball.
Will Smith gets something of a de facto nod as the only lefty in the pen. However, Smith was notably better for Houston (0-2, 3.27 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 24:4 K/BB ratio) than he was in Atlanta (0-1, 4.38 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 41:21 K/BB ratio). The extreme drop in the walks is the most notable. Dusty will want his one LHP in the pen.
Seth Martinez should be the easy choice here over Phil Maton and Jose Urquidy. Urquidy has never shown the ability to pitch from the pen, and with both Brown and Garcia already on the roster, what he can do is redundant. Urquidy has also struggled in three of his past four appearances and has been homer prone in that span. He’s allowed 15 ER in his last 18.1 IP, including 6 HRs.
Maton has been maddeningly inconsistent, his 3.84 ERA is the highest in the bullpen among pitchers with at least 20 appearances, and he has also been bit by the long ball surrendering 10 HRs in 65.2 IP. Maton’s 10 HR allowed equals Montero, Neris, Abreu, and Stanek combined.
Martinez, meanwhile, pitched well when active, posting a 2.09 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 38.2 IP. His performance has been far better than what the team has gotten from Maton and Urquidy of late, and he would make the better choice for the final man in the pen.
The Lineup: LOCKS
Those 11 are absolute locks, and no discussion is really needed for them. Dusty has continued to play Maldonado approximately 60% of the time since the team acquired Vazquez, and that doesn’t figure to change. Dusty will not waver from Yuli Gurriel, who, despite his massive offensive drop-off, probably saves at least two throwing errors per game for the Astros infield with scoops on low and bounced throws.
Altuve has been red hot down the stretch of the season and overall had one of his best seasons despite no one really talking about it. Not only did he hit .300 for the first time since 2018, but his 28 HR are his 2nd highest career total, his .921 OPS his 3rd highest career total, and his 160 OPS+ was not only the best of his career but 5th best in all of baseball. Altuve is still very much a major impact player at age 32, and his Cooperstown credentials continue to grow.
Jeremy Pena is easily the team’s best defensive shortstop, and while the rookie has been up and down at the plate, he’s shown power for the MLB level with 22 HR. Pena is only the 6th Astros player in their history to hit 20+ HRs in their rookie season. His 16 defensive runs saved led all shortstops.
Alex Bregman got off to his usual slow start before his second-half surge. Bregman hit .287 with a .894 OPS in the second half this year and was one of the primary catalysts for the team, while Yordan Alvarez missed time/slumped with injury.
Mancini has hit some homers but little else since becoming an Astro, with a brutal .176 AVG, .258 OBP, and .622 OPS over 165 ABs. However, he is an established professional hitter that the team traded for and will likely be given opportunities, although the merit of those opportunities is highly debatable.
Aledmys Diaz is the team’s jack of all trades. He can play all four infield positions, as well as LF, and even made spot appearances in RF (which he should not be making in the postseason). Diaz has some pop (12 HR in 305 AB), and his versatility makes him a guarantee.
Yordan Alvarez is essentially the straw that stirs the drink now for the Astros. He is the team’s best hitter and was the most dangerous hitter in the American League, not named Aaron Judge. He hit a career-high 37 HRs (3rd in AL), and his OPS of 1.019 was 2nd only to Judge in the AL. His bat is vital to the lineup, and he and Kyle Tucker form the basis of the balance in the lineup.
Speaking of Kyle Tucker, he became the Astros’ first full-time outfielder to reach 30 HR and 100 RBI in a season since Carlos Lee in 2007. Tucker is also an elite-level defender with a cannon arm in RF who often makes baserunners pay for their hubris.
Chas McCormick was the team’s most reliable CF for the duration of the season, as Jake Meyers was injured, then ineffective, Jose Siri failed to hit at the MLB level, and Mauricio Dubon offers nothing offensively. Chas has elite speed and an adequate arm to play all three OF spots. His 110 OPS+ showed him to be a slightly better-than-average offensive player who can hit some HRs (14 HR in 359 AB).
That leaves two spots left for the bench, and the players I like most for this are:
Dusty Baker admitted the team brought Meyers back too soon initially. Upon first arriving to the big league team, Meyers struggled to catch up to high-velocity pitches, did not demonstrate the strong arm he did pre-injury, and seemed timid around the wall. He was optioned to Sugar Land on August 29 to see if he could recapture his form from a season ago.
While at Sugar Land, Meyers took off. In September, Meyers slashed .345/.462/.563 for a 1.025 OPS. He was 30-for-87 with 4 HR and 10 total XBH. He also demonstrated he could still uncork the throws and got over whatever timidness he had around the wall. Some people thought it was still injury recovery related, and some thought it was in his head, but he proved whatever it was, he was over it.
Meyers was recalled by the Astros on September 29 and went 5-for-11 to show he wasn’t intimidated by the call-up. Meyers offers the most offensive upside of any of the team’s potential CFs available for the postseason roster, and when healthy (as he appears to be), he is their best defensive CF as well.
David Hensley is a highly versatile player, another type of player who can play all over the infield and LF as well. Like Meyers, he is something of a late bloomer. He wasn’t considered a prospect until posting a strong season offensively at Triple-A. Hensley hit .298 with a .420 OBP and an .898 OPS in 379 ABs with Sugar Land to earn his call-up to the Astros.
Since arriving in Houston, he has made the most of his limited ABs, going 10-for-29 (.345 AVG) with a pair of doubles, a triple, and a homer. He also walked five times and showed excellent plate discipline. His ability to make contact, have power, play multiple positions, and get on base make him the player I would prefer to have the final spot on the roster.
This leaves off Mauricio Dubon, who is also a very versatile player but carries a very light stick (.208/.254/.294). His defensive prowess is redundant with Meyers and Hensley, J.J. Matijevic (.209/.254/.328 at MLB level with 25 K in 67 AB), or any idea of a third catcher like Korey Lee or Yainer Diaz.