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The starting rotation is THE exclamation point right now

Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., and José Urquidy are leading the Astros in terms of starting pitching.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, the hitting gets the most applause when it comes to evaluating the Astros. But the team’s recent winning run is mostly thanks to what the starting staff has done since April 22 and, in general, throughout the whole 2021 season.

It deserves even more credit considering that the team has gone most of the season without lefty Framber Valdez and newly acquired Jake Odorizzi, plus legend Justin Verlander won’t likely throw a pitch in all 2021 due to Tommy John surgery.

But asides from what happened on Sunday (not included), the team is 8-2 since April 22, a span where the starters registered a 1.82 ERA. Over that period, they allowed more than two runs just ONCE (Zack Greinke’s four earned runs on April 28 vs Mariners).

Much better, across 54 13 innings, they surrendered 37 hits and struck out 53 hitters, with only 12 bases on balls.

In the cited period, Cristian Javier (excluding his Sunday outing vs Rays), Lance McCullers Jr., and José Urquidy combined for only FOUR earned runs in 38 frames: 0.95 ERA. That has given the Astros the chance to win a handful of games despite scoring 4.8 per game in their starts (six games).

So far in the 2021 season, the Astros own the second-best starter ERA in the American League (3.47) and trail only to the White Sox’s 3.19. The same happens with the opponent batting average (.218).

This starting staff —and their pitching in general— will get even better when Valdez and Odorizzi return from the injured list at some point in the upcoming weeks, as it will have more experience and depth. Until now, Luis García seems to be fixed to the rotation, thanks to what he’s done in his two last starts: 10 23 IP, 3 ER, 12 SO.

As long as the starting staff keeps throwing well and the offensive guys keep producing runs, the Astros will surely take advantage of the Athletics’ rough patch of four losses in five games since April 27.