Astros: The tale of two Lance McCullers Jr. continues

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros would love to see some pitching consistency, and Lance McCullers Jr. is one of the chief offenders. Who shows up against the A’s?

I keep bringing this up every time I talk about Lance McCullers Jr., but he really was given an impossible task. By placing him second in the rotation, the Houston Astros weren’t even trying to hide that they were hoping he could replace the incredible Gerrit Cole.

Not an easy task—actually, an impossible task. And McCullers Jr. is making it look, well, more impossible. At least sometimes. Sometimes he makes it look easy. Like when he faces the San Francisco Giants and one-hits them over seven innings.

That’s Gerrit Cole stuff right there. But then there’s giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That is not Gerrit Cole stuff right there.

The Astros need to solve the Lance McCullers Jr. conundrum

It’s the tale of two Lance McCullers Jr.’s, and with the Oakland A’s coming up today in a series that could reshape the American League West, the time has never been more important to make sure we get the right one.

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And better yet, just get rid of that Diamondbacks one altogether.

It’s hard to pinpoint where things go wrong for McCullers Jr., but there is one clear byline between the successes of McCullers, and that’s his ability to get groundball outs.

In all of the outings where he’s been shelled, his groundball percentage hovers around the 50% mark. When he pitches well, he’s upwards of 85%.

It’s not necessarily a matter of control either. In his first start against Seattle, he walked three guys but still had a quality start. Against Arizona, he walked none. McCullers Jr. might just need to work back through the motions and rediscover what’s working. He may just need to vary his pitch locations. It’s hard when there aren’t any trends to reference. I wish I could say that McCullers Jr. just needs to keep his change-up down, or needs to stay off the middle of the plate. But his heatmaps don’t show any such dangerous tendencies.

Which makes it even harder to know what McCullers Jr. will show up against the A’s. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But McCullers Jr. has the stuff to get the job done. It’s just a matter of getting that best stuff out there.

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Keep an eye on his ability to induce groundballs. It’s his one pillar of success thus far.