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Astros in the Wild Card Round: Putting Together a Playoff Roster

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The Astros need to catch fire in a major way.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The 60-game debacle of a season is over and the Astros are advancing to the postseason with a 29-31 record. You know, a losing record. Thankfully, in a way, the Astros won’t be the lone losing team qualifying for the postseason as the Brewers did the same with an identical 29-31 record. But let’s see who gets more attention, due to obvious reasons.

Only in 2020, right?

The Wild Card round will see Houston take on the Twins in a best-of-three series at Target Field in Minneapolis. To put it bluntly, the Astros are the underdogs in this one. The Twins finished their 2020 season with a 36-24 record, which was good for first place in the AL Central. While both lineups finished with a 101 wRC+, Minnesota featured a bit more power than Houston. The difference in this series may ultimately lie with the quality of the pitching staff.

So, how should the Astros construct their 28-man Wild Card roster to best combat the Twins? Below is my attempt at it.

Catcher (3)

Martin Maldonado, Dustin Garneau, Garrett Stubbs

With a 28-man roster in the postseason, the Astros can afford to carry three catchers. Maldonado is the obvious starter with Garneau as the primary backup, but the former’s injury scare last week reaffirms the need for an emergency option with Stubbs. Barring an injury, however, it is likely Maldonado appears in every game in the postseason as the starting catcher.

Infielders (7)

Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Aledmys Diaz, Abraham Toro, Jack Mayfield

Frankly, there is little to speculate about in regards to the infield. Barring an injury, it is unlikely that we will see Toro (46 wRC+ in 97 plate appearances) or Mayfield (28 wRC+ in 47 plate appearances) in any meaningful way. But both provide depth at positions that could be vital under the appropriate circumstances. Don’t forget that the Astros have lost Altuve and Bregman to bothersome injuries at various points this season. Plus, Gurriel is clearly not a hundred percent at this time.

Outfielders (5)

George Springer, Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw

As with the infield, there isn’t a lot of mystery surrounding the outfield. Some combination of Springer, Brantley, Reddick, and Tucker will be the starters with the odd man out likely hitting as the DH. In the event that Straw somehow draws a start, I hope it doesn’t inexplicably comes at leadoff. (Seriously, it doesn’t make sense, Dusty.)

Starting Pitchers (4)

Zack Greinke, Jose Urquidy, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez

Odds are that one of Urquidy or Valdez will be moved to the bullpen for this series. It all depends on how the Astros feel like they matchup against the Twins. If I have to pick someone to start in this series between the two, it would probably be Valdez who gets the starting nod in one of the games. Against left-handed pitching at Target Field this season, the Twins posted a .123 ISO and 72 wRC+. Those numbers were .215 and 110 against right-handed pitchers at home.

Relief Pitchers (9)

Ryan Pressly, Josh James, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb, Cy Sneed, Luis Garcia

The bullpen still feels like a hot mess on most days. Pressly will be the closer for a club that somehow has to bridge the gap to him from the starter. That said, the bullpen has looked more competent in the last couple of weeks with a 3.66 ERA/3.65 FIP during that time. Of course, it helps when your opponents are the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Mariners.

The key for the bullpen will likely be the availability of James and how a couple of this year’s starters perform in shorter relief roles. As was the case in 2017 with McCullers Jr., Brad Peacock, and Charlie Morton, the Astros are going to need Javier and likely Urquidy to get some key outs in the later innings to advance. Also look out for Paredes, Raley, and Taylor to get some exposure in this series as each brings something a bit different to the table. Each of three has seen their share of both the good and bad, although I have more faith in them than other relievers on this staff not named Pressly or Javier.

Garcia is also a pitcher, if included, to watch closely under the right situation as he does possess high strikeout potential, especially against the Twins who had the fourth-highest strikeout rate against right-handed pitchers at home (26.3 percent). I think I would take Garcia’s potential in a small sample over what Nivaldo Rodriguez can provide at this point.

The Astros are going to have to catch fire at the right time to take this series. There is little in the ways of roster construction that can greatly alter the potential outcome of this three-game set. That said, there are few key wrinkles to monitor, especially in the bullpen. Let’s see what happens starting on Tuesday and go from there.