The Astros were somewhat bailed out in Game 5 when Framber Valdez tossed eight innings of one-run ball. Like, the left-hander freaking shoved. If Houston advances to their third World Series in five years, that game will likely be known as the “Framber affair” around these parts. More importantly, it provided a much-needed rest day for a bullpen that has covered all but 6 2/3 innings in the first four games of the ALCS. Other than possibly Ryne Stanek, who finished the game on Wednesday, every arm is readily available.
In turn, Luis García gets the starting nod for Game 6, and he looks to do what Valdez did in Game 5: Put a previous appearance firmly in the rearview mirror and pitch deeper into the game. But to expect something similar to an eight-inning, one-run performance from García, who only lasted one frame back in Game 2, is not realistic. After all, the right-hander has only pitched a total of 3 2/3 innings in his two postseason appearances, allowing ten earned runs in the process. Not to mention a right knee issue, which may have impacted his performance. The proverbial leash will understandably be short in Game 6.
So, how should Dusty Baker and the Astros approach the game from a pitching point of view?
Ideally, García would cover two to three innings while getting through the opposing lineup at least once. Perhaps four innings if the game is progressing smoothly for him? But I definitely wouldn’t let the rookie face Boston’s lineup a third time. Here are his numbers each time through the order in 2021 to help drive home the point.
- 1st: 269 TBF, 2.78 ERA, .272 OBP, .353 SLG
- 2nd: 258 TBF, 2.61 ERA, .304 OBP, .380 SLG
- 3rd: 104 TBF, 6.57 ERA, .327 OBP, .505 SLG
But it is worth noting that García started to fade a bit in the season’s second half. In particular, his numbers when facing a lineup for a second time worsened slightly in the second half compared to the first half.
- 1st Half: 141 TBF, 2.41 ERA, .291 OBP, .331 SLG
- 2nd Half: 117 TBF, 2.86 ERA, .319 OBP, .436 SLG
Don’t let García’s ERA in the second half of the season fool you, as we’ve seen opposing lineups start getting to him sooner as the season progressed. After all, ERA isn’t precisely a foolproof measurement of a pitcher’s performance. But the noticeable jumps in on-base percentage and slugging percentage make you take notice. These numbers represent why García may not be long for this game in any case.
García’s performance could significantly dictate how the Astros proceed in the later innings. For example, if the deficit is relatively small or Houston obtains a lead, we’ll probably see Cristian Javier make an appearance by the third or fourth inning. Outside of Valdez’s Game 5 performance, there arguably hasn’t been a more valuable pitcher on this staff other than Javier, who has kept the Red Sox off the board with five scoreless innings with a 7/2 K/BB ratio. If the script follows the last two games, we’ll probably see some combination of Ryan Pressly and Kendall Graveman in the final innings. If a bridge is needed to reach the duo, Brooks Raley and Phil Maton would likely see action.
But if this one gets away from the Astros early, which is certainly possible if you watched Games 2 and 3, Jake Odorizzi is probably the next pitcher up. There are two goals in this approach: One, you hope to keep the game relatively manageable in hopes that this offense can chip away at this hypothetical lead; two, save the best arms in the bullpen for a winner-take-all Game 7. That means keeping Pressly, Graveman, and Stanek away from this one if the deficit is relatively large. Use them liberally, if you have to, for Game 7, not Game 6.
There are always plenty of moving parts to any plan, but García’s performance is ultimately the linchpin for tonight. Unlike past years when the Astros could bank on specific aces to step up, this year’s formula is a bit more problematic. This team could still win in this manner, yes, but it is more chaotic than what has occurred in the past.