All five of the Houston Astros starters have now made their first two starts of the 2018 season. This group was predicted by many throughout the 2017-18 offseason to be one of the best in baseball, and so far they have not disappointed.
Through the first eleven games, the Astros rotation has a combined ERA of 1.77 and lead the league in strikeouts with 82. These numbers back up the prediction that the rotation is one of baseball’s best, so let’s take a deep dive into each pitcher and examine how they’ve helped the Astros rotation achieve these totals so far.
Justin Verlander made his 10th career Opening Day start when he took the mound against the Arlington Rangers. The veteran right handed flame thrower looked like his old self, blowing his fastball by hitters and putting them away with his devastating curveball. His fastball had its usual life, sitting at 94 MPH and regularly hitting 96 MPH.
Verlander’s curveball looked even better than it did last season, which is not surprising due to a complete offseason in the Astros analytically driven program. His 2nd outing was not quite as sharp, but he still managed to put the team in position to win, which they did.
Last night, Verlander added another nine strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins in one of the coldest starts of his career. Those 9 Ks helped Verlander improve his season K% to a whopping 31.1%, good for the 17th highest K% in all of baseball right now. Additionally, Verlander showed solid command last night throughout the game just as he has in his other two starts, maintaining a low BB% at 5.4%. At the end of the day, Verlander continues to look like the true ace that the Astros need.
The 2015 American League Cy Young winner, Dallas Keuchel, toed the rubber in the second game of the Astros season in which the Astros fell 5-1 to the Rangers. Keuchel struggled a little in this game, surrendering three earned runs through six innings of work.
He was not quite as sharp as we are used to seeing him, only throwing 60% of his pitches for strikes. On a really good outing he should throw around 70% of his pitches for strikes. This outing was definitely not Keuchel’s best outing but still gave the team a chance to win.
In his second outing, Keuchel again did not appear to have his A game. However, he battled and got through five innings only allowing one run. This is a sign of a great pitcher. Being able to battle through a game and be highly productive while you do not have your best stuff is what the studs do.
Lance McCullers Jr. threw the third game of the Astros young season. He went five and one third innings allowing two earned runs. The 24-year-old threw his knuckle curve more than any other pitch in his 2018 debut. The hard-breaking ball sat at 88 mph and kept the Rangers off balance all day long.
This pitch will be key for McCullers if he hopes to return to his All-Star level of play in 2017. McCullers was again productive in his second outing against San Diego, giving up two runs over five innings. The Astros fell 4-1 in this game but McCullers did his job while pitching without his best stuff and gave the team a chance to win.
The highly anticipated Astros debut of Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. Cole went seven innings giving up only a solo home run in the first and struck out 11 Rangers. His fastball sat at 95 but he reached back and hit 99 MPH in the fifth inning.
Gerrit Cole, 99mph Fastball (surprising the Astros announcers). pic.twitter.com/PV3Xjf1r9F— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 1, 2018
Cole unsurprisingly threw his slider at a higher rate than he did with the Pirates. He also set a career high getting 21 swinging strikes. This is the type of debut we were all hoping for and was overall a great day for the Cole Train!
In his second outing, Cole again showed off his elite stuff. The powerful right hander hurled seven scoreless innings in a pressure packed 1-0 win. He matched his former career high of swinging strikes with 19. This is the type of stuff we should be getting excited about. Cole looks like the All-Star he was in 2015. Houston Astros Pitching Coach Brent Strom looks like he is working his magic with the young pitcher and the results are starting to match the potential.
World Series Game 7 hero Charlie Morton continued to look nasty in his 2018 debut. On banner unveiling night at Minute Maid Park, the big right-hander threw six innings of scoreless baseball on six strikeouts in the win. His devastating two seam fastball sat right at 96 during his outing. Morton also mixed in a good hard curveball around 80 MPH. Both him and Cole looked like aces.
Morton would be at the top of a lot of big league staffs, but the Astros are lucky to have him as the fifth starter. In outing number two, Morton continued to impress. He threw six innings of scoreless baseball while hitting 98 with his fastball. Morton looked like an ace again and thus far has been the best pitcher on our staff. Remember, he’s our fifth starter!
Two times through the rotation (+ Verlander’s third start), Astros fans have to be excited. The entire staff pitched well and all showed top level stuff. Look for Keuchel to improve and be the Cy Young caliber pitcher we know he can be and for the others to build off their solid starts. The Astros have five aces and the best offense in baseball that will show up to the 2018 season eventually. The back to back tour is on.