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Astros: Deserving starter will miss Wild Card round rotation

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 22: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 22, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 22: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 22, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
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A very deserving starter will not get a start for the Houston Astros in the Wild Card round.

Perhaps it’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem worth noting nonetheless. The Houston Astros, in their upcoming best-of-three Wild Card round matchup against the Minnesota Twins, will have one very deserving starting pitcher not lined up to make a start in the series.

What we know so far is that Zack Greinke is the most likely candidate to start the opening game. Lance McCullers Jr. appears to be lined up to start a potential Game Three. The second game of the series will likely be a choice between Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy, with Cristian Javier likely ticketed for the bullpen.

The choice between Valdez and Urquidy isn’t an easy one, of course. They’ve both pitched well enough to earn a start, but one of them is going to get left out. Valdez led the team in innings this year, going 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA, while Urquidy went 1-1 with a 2.73 ERA in five starts after returning from a bout of COVID-19.

How Should It Shake Out?

There’s an argument to be made that Greinke is less deserving of a start given his poor performance of late (6.08 ERA in September). But with his experience and track record, it’s no surprise the team will turn to him. His last postseason outing was brilliant, so if you’re going to put the ball in someone’s hands, give it to the guy who’s been there.

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McCullers has been on fire lately, so giving him a start is a no-brainer. Javier has certainly earned one as well given his 3.48 ERA on the season, but he’s an obvious candidate to excel in relief. Given the Astros lack of depth in the bullpen, that’s a pretty easy decision.

I would be more inclined to give Urquidy a start thanks to his previous postseason success, but it’s hard to argue against Valdez. In a longer series, both would certainly (and deservedly) be in the rotation. If the Astros are able to advance, both would be in line to start games in the Division Series.

It may also come down to who might be more useful in relief, as whichever one doesn’t get the start would certainly be a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen. Valdez has the better swing-and-miss stuff, so that might make him more useful in the bullpen than Urquidy. But again, it’s hard to fault going with either one of them at this point, and the Twins aren’t markedly better against lefties or righties.

It wasn’t very long ago that we thought the Astros didn’t have enough starting pitching, but it looks like they do now. We don’t know what we’re going to get from the offense, and the bullpen doesn’t induce a ton of confidence either. It may be that the starting pitching has to carry this team forward if it’s going to win.

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