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A six-man rotation could make sense for the Astros, but only temporarily

The Astros have a rare luxury, and how they exploit it could either solve a key problem or inadvertently lead to another.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros have an embarrassment of riches right now. Those were the words general manager James Click used on Sunday to describe the team’s starting pitching. With Lance McCullers Jr. scheduled to pitch tomorrow, the club will effectively be expanding their starting rotation to six members. All are capable and could start for many teams. Few organizations in baseball possess this luxury. For the Astros, though, it comes with potential pitfalls if mismanaged.

Regardless of what happens over the next several weeks leading up to and beyond the trade deadline, the Astros will need to maximize their chances of winning games when making their final push for a playoff spot. Considering the layout of the current roster, it’s difficult to believe the expanded rotation will be here to stay.

Jake Odorizzi has shown flashes of competency during recent outings against the Padres and Red Sox — teams with high-octane offenses — and though his ERA is inflated at 6.75, his overall data doesn’t compare favorably to the rest of Houston’s staff. Moreover, the veteran righty may have the lowest ceiling of the bunch. None of this is to say he’s incapable of providing solid innings, but he has been noticeably less effective than his staff mates.

It’s unknown how the 31-year-old would respond to a demotion, as he was a fairly high-profile addition who was signed less than a week after Framber Valdez fractured his finger in early March. Due to a minor arm injury he sustained in an April start, Odorizzi’s still building up his arm strength.

Putting the bullpen’s well-documented ineptness aside, giving fewer starts to high-quality pitchers such as Zack Greinke, Luis García, McCullers and Valdez is less than ideal. Paired with the decision not to improve an area of need, the strategy as a whole is rather suboptimal.

As unappealing as this direction might seem, the Astros are about to embark on a stretch where they play 20 games in 20 days. Additionally, the club’s playoff odds remain quite high.

Experimenting with a six-man rotation and thus giving someone like Odorizzi more time to establish himself could be the prudent approach. It might prove to be a fickle one as well, however, given that the Astros would arguably benefit more by eventually returning to and maintaining a standard five-man unit.

12 days ago, I wrote about how the health of the starting staff could significantly impact the viability of the bullpen. The central theme was to reinforce the struggling relief staff with starters that were bumped from the rotation. Cristian Javier made the move in late May and has allowed only 3 runs in 11 innings in his first three appearances as a reliever.

García was ostensibly the other primary conversion candidate, but he has simply been too good as a starter to remove him from the role. So, for the time being, the bullpen will seemingly not be getting anymore internal aid.

Denying the relief corps a necessary upgrade in personnel while decreasing the amount of starts the top arms receive is not the right course in the long run, but if nothing else, perhaps the results of a six-man rotation will trigger a reassessment of what’s best for the Astros as October gets closer.