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Who should be the top three starters for the first playoff series?

With many options on the table despite losing Justin Verlander, let’s try to see what a three-man staff could look like for the Astros.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth that will allow them to advance for the fourth year in a row to the postseason. One of the questions Dusty Baker will have to answer is his starting rotation or at least the top three to start the best-of-three Wild Card series.

Even after the unfortunate news of Justin Verlander’s season ending Tommy John surgery, the Astros have a good number of options regarding their staff. Enjoy our analysis about who should be given the chance to take the hill against, likely, the Oakland Athletics.

Zack Greinke

Duh! You can’t leave your only legitimate ace behind. Even though Greinke is not having a good time right now (6.14 ERA, .828 opponent OPS in September), he’s the most experienced arm on the team and has a Hall of Fame career.

The 36-year-old righty has 16 starts under his belt in the next stage, though his last victory came in 2015. In 92 frames, he owns a 4.21 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, besides 2.4 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 ratios. Peripherals are better; a 2.79 FIP and 3.50 xFIP

After being smashed by the Rays in his first outing in the 2019 postseason, Greinke followed that start with four appearances of 21 13 innings, 19 hits, seven earned runs, 20 strikeouts, and a 2.95 ERA against the Yankees (2) and the Nationals (2). You gotta trust in Donald Zachary Greinke!

Framber Valdez

Yes! Framber Valdez has been the most consistent starter for the Astros in 2020. Period. Basically, only two of his eleven starts this season have been bad. When you see his stats, you’ll fall in love with his 2.84 FIP, 2.93 xFIP and his 1.12 WHIP. He barely allows home runs (0.6 HR/9), doesn’t walk too often (2.0 BB/9), and can strike hitters out (9.7 K/9).

By the way, if you remove September 6 and 12 appearances against the Angels and the Dodgers (13 ER combined), he’d have a 2.30 ERA for the season.

As if it wasn’t enough for you to like Framber to start Game 2, the lefty has gone at least six episodes in nine of his outings and has gone at least seven in six of them. He also has seven quality jobs. He is tied for tenth in MLB fWAR with 2.0, just .1 behind Greinke.

Lance McCullers Jr.

Among Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, and José Urquidy, the former is the one in the best position. Why? Well, he has more stamina than Javier and has thrown more this season than Urquidy, who’s only notched 22 23 innings in 2020.

But of course, McCullers Jr. has solid arguments to start in the postseason, a stage where he’s logged 32 lifetime frames with only 19 hits allowed (2.53 ERA), nine earned runs, and 30 punchouts.

The case for the 26-year-old McCullers is similar to that for Valdez. If you see his high regular-season ERA (4.24), you’ll probably doubt about his possibilities. But there was a start that made his numbers look not so good: seven hits and eight runs against the Diamondbacks back on August 5. Imagine that outing didn’t happen and McCullers’ ERA would be at 3.04. His FIP and xFIP are both below four.

Since coming back from the IL McCullers has been lights out. In two starts and 13.2 innings pitched McCullers hasn’t allowed a single earned run, with a FIP of 2.38 and an xFIP of 2.70. He’s had 15 K’s in this stretch with only two walks.

I know you’re probably thinking about Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. Those guys have been GOOD for the Astros. In fact, I don’t know where the Astros would be if it wasn’t for the Dominican rookie, Javier. His ERA of 3.33 is the lowest among starters with more than three games started. But peripherals are not so kind; a 4.99 FIP and 4.90 xFIP.

Urquidy has been a great late addition. In his only three starts he is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. And who can forget his clutch performance in the Game 5 victory in the 2019 World Series? But his peripherals are even worse than Javier’s; 4.33 FIP, 5.74 xFIP. Can we really trust Urquidy after only 22 innings pitched?

What do you think about my choices? I say go with the three best proven starters, Greinke, Valdez and McCullers. But some say save the lefty Valdez as effective relief behind a rotation including playoff-experienced Urquidy.

Let’s discuss it! You can give us your top three starters for the first playoff series in the comments. Let us know your thoughts!