Who will be on the mound for the Astros to open the 2017 playoffs?
The Astros were on a four-game losing streak before last night’s game. Meanwhile, the Indians set a new American League record for winning streaks with 21-games in a row winning today. The Indians now sit two games ahead of the Astros with 18 games left.
The Indians streak will break at some point, but can the Astros make up the ground lost? At this point, as Jeff Luhnow told Matt Thomas on the GM show, it’s looking probable that they play the Red Sox. Unless the Indians fall a little, they will get the winner of the Wild Card game.
All year, Houston fans have penciled in Dallas Keuchel to pitch game one of a playoff series. That was before the acquisition of Justin Verlander. Even after acquiring Verlander, it was assumed that was the case with Keuchel’s past performance. Keuchel was the team’s ace, Verlander was brought in to be another top level starter.
Keuchel proving that he is human?
In Keuchel’s last start, he was on a roll before the sixth inning. After five innings, Keuchel only allowed one run on 62 pitches. The sixth inning, the wheels came off in that inning where he allowed three runs on 44 pitches. Included was something we rarely see from Keuchel, two bases loaded walks and a hit batter to drive in those runs.
If it were anyone else, people would probably be worried. But he’s ‘The Beard!’ We have become spoiled with what to expect from Keuchel with his early season performance. However, he’s still trying to recapture his glory after returning from the DL on July 28th. Will he get the nod to start the first game of the playoffs?
The Astros have the luxury this year of setting the rotation the way they want it. They should be able to clinch the playoffs at some point this week with a magic number of five. In 2015, the Astros had to use Keuchel for the Wild-Card game. Now they can choose who starts game one.
Verlander had an impressive performance last night, only allowing one hit in eight shutout innings. He struck out nine batters to win his 12th game while lowering his ERA to 3.58. Despite his early season struggles, he showed the potential impact pitcher in the playoffs. The guy who could go games 1,4, and 7.
That could be Keuchel, but he needs to get back on track during his next start. Most likely, Keuchel is the guy with his track record. He had a 12-4 record on the season with a 3.03 ERA. His strikeouts are a little up at 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings from his career 7.2.
It could be beneficial to pitch Keuchel second between the power pitching of Verlander and Lance McCullers. However, McCullers will have his start skipped today with arm fatigue. At least, that’s what the team is saying. Once again, the team has the luxury of saving McCullers for the playoffs.
When Keuchel is right, he has some of the best pitching stuff in the game. As tempting as it is to have Verlander pitch game one, Keuchel is the ace of the team. The Astros have 2.5 weeks to decide who will get the ball to start the playoffs at home. Either way, the Astros are in good hands.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***