As Astros ace Lance McCullers Jr. returns to the mound on Saturday, here is a look back at the 3 best starts of his career to date.
It has been almost a full calendar year since Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. appeared in a major league game. He was removed from the clinching game 4 of the 2021 ALDS with a forearm strain that would end up sidelining him for 10 months. After 4 rehab starts and a lengthy recovery process, though, the highly anticipated return of the Astros’ longest-tenured ace is finally upon us. McCullers will take the mound Saturday night in an attempt to secure a victory in the team’s 3-game series against the Athletics.
McCullers and the Astros agreed to a lucrative contract extension just before the 2021 season, and he showed why he was worth it. A season ago, he posted career-bests in ERA, games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Despite walking more batters than anyone else in baseball, his 0.7 HR/9 and 6.8 H/9 both led American League starters. He didn’t come all that close to throwing 200 innings but he still finished top-10 in AL Cy Young voting for the 2021 season.
It’s easy to forget given the Astros’ great surplus of elite homegrown starting pitchers, but if he was healthy, McCullers would have likely started this season at the top of their rotation. He was not their opening day starter in 2021, but his performance throughout the year was good enough to give him the starting nod in game 1 of the postseason. With the departure of Gerrit Cole and the absence of Justin Verlander last year due to injury, McCullers became the de-facto ace in Houston.
In anticipation of his return, which will make the Astros an even scarier team heading into the postseason with the handful of aces they have up their sleeve, here is a look back at 3 of the best starts of McCullers’ major league career up to this point (game data retrieved from BaseballSavant and BaseballReference).