Some things to talk about while I literally love Justin Verlander...
1) I’m back
Yep. The Astros are in the World Series and I’m stepping out of retirement to bring back the Three Things for as long as this crazy season lasts. I didn’t want to do it in the ALCS and jinx things, but I enjoyed writing about The Verlander Game so much, I can’t not write about the Series.
For those of you who don’t remember me, I’m like the weird cousin you haven’t heard from in a couple years who suddenly pops up at Thanksgiving. I may have to work myself back into game shape this week, so bear with me.
For those of you who haven’t ever seen this article format, it’s stolen from many other places around the web. Ryan made the wonderful graphics that I love much more than whatever I write underneath it. I try to pick three things to discuss. They could be articles. They could be random moments in the game. From time to time, they could be individual tweets.
Why am I back? Because I love this team so very, very much. This is one of my favorite Astros teams ever. They’re just so fun. From Altuve to El Oso Blanco to Showrrea to Springer to Reddick’s Wooo and even Old Man Beltran, I love it. We’ll save some thoughts on this team for this week, but what I love most is how much of this team reminds me of my time writing regularly on this site. The Astros didn’t win much in those years, but I had good memories from all the people in this community.
I enjoy thinking about doing the live draft podcast with Tim when Springer was drafted or reading Brooks and Anthony write about prospects and the draft. I think about all the dumb articles I wrote #onhere about how Matt Dominguez might turn the corner or how dumb the Brandon Lyon signing was (not knowing it might lead one day to Joe Musgrove).
This team looks different than I could have ever imagined in 2009, but I love it all the same. I’ll try to bring that in these articles for as long as the Astros are still alive.
2) A.J. Hinch’s bullpen usage
It popped up in my Twitter feed during Game 7, but Michael Baumann wrote about how manager were making dumb decisions with their pitching staff on Oct. 18.
And pulling Charlie Morton when he’d only thrown 50-odd pitches and given up zero run seemed pretty dumb. It wasn’t that he pulled Morton, either. You could make the case that Morton struggles mightily the third time through the order and the Yankees top three hitters were coming up in the sixth.
It was Hinch going to Lance McCullers that seemed weird. With his entire bullpen available, including a guy like Chris Devenski or Will Harris, who have been great for multiple seasons, he went with a starter on short rest.
And he stayed with him.
And stayed with him.
And let him finish the game.
All these decisions would be head-scratching if McCullers had done what Houston’s bullpen did in Game 4. Maybe Ken Giles is really Houston’s best reliever. Maybe Devo shouldn’t be buried after a couple bad outings.
But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that Hinch went starter-starter. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Houston used tandem starters in the minors. Isn’t that the same concept? Instead of using one-inning relievers, throw two starters back to back and make sure no one faces the lineup three times.
That’s exactly how it worked in Game 7. It may not be conventional wisdom. It may not even be what the smart baseball crowd wanted. But it’s something Houston has been playing around with for years now. In the biggest moment for this front office, it paid off.
Even though Hinch was still probably an idiot for pulling Morton.
Speaking of McCullers...
3) Lance McCullers Jr.
Tell you what. I’ll give $100 to anyone who predicted, when he was drafted in the supplemental first round as a starting pitcher, that LMJ would record a four-inning save to send the Astros to the World Series.
McCullers’ whole career has been surprising. He was a surprising draft pick at the time; people knew he dropped because of salary demands, but no one expected him to be there when Houston drafted in the supplemental first round (that was for Clint Barmes, right? I’ll assume it was and not bother looking it up. It’s not like the internet is right here with the information easily searchable).
After he was drafted, it was surprising he stuck as a starter. He had his own “cryptic” hashtag for people who said he’d be a reliever and stick as a starter he did. He just wasn’t very good by traditional metrics.
It was surprising when he was promoted up from Double-A in 2015. Again, he didn’t set the world on fire in the minors. His ERA in Lancaster was over 5, but still above average for that league. The Astros just didn’t really care about ERA when promoting players.
And they were proven correct as he surprised us by defying expectations in his rookie season and pitching like an ace. He dominated in the playoffs that year too and finished with an ERA 22 percent better than league average while striking out more than a batter per inning.
That brings us to this year, when he was not very good. Well, that’s not quite correct. McCullers was very good at some times, got hurt other times, was bad in other other times and then somehow turned into that great pitcher in the playoffs.
Seriously, McCullers has been good in every postseason appearance this year. He matched David Price in the Red Sox series (and got ignored by the national broadcasters for it), was brilliant in New York (and let down by his bullpen) before just a phenomenal outing in Game 7.
But that’s who LMJ is. He trash talks other fans and teams on Twitter. He gives back to the community’s animal shelters. He wears Batman cleats in one of his first starts. He taunts the other team and he emotes on the mound and I love it all.
Basically, LMJ is like a better, younger Jose Lima. Now we just need him to sing a memorable jingle for a local commercial and the torch will be officially passed. So get on that McCullers.