I discussed the Astros’ bullpen and their encouraging performance in June to some length on Tuesday. However, when you hear chatter about relievers and how they’re a volatile bunch, then honestly look no further than Houston’s staff this season. Outside of Ryan Pressly, there probably isn’t a fully reliable option in that group regularly. Sure, Brooks Raley and Cristian Javier have pitched well enough in relief in the grand scheme, but they remain stuck in a tier or two below Pressly at this point.
Unlike the bullpen regarding Pressly, this club’s starting rotation doesn’t really have a true headliner. But, unlike the bullpen, there is plenty of depth to cover many innings right now. Moreover, this aspect of the rotation is arguably Houston’s second-greatest strength, trailing the lineup for obvious reasons.
Despite the turbulent start to the season with multiple starters not pitching deep into games, the Astros (413 innings) currently trails only the A’s (429 1⁄3 innings) and the Dodgers (416 2⁄3 innings) in total innings by a starting rotation. The last 30 days or so have been relatively kind to the Astros’ pitching staff, in general, as the rotation’s performance (2.73 ERA, 3.57 FIP) is another reason behind their ascent up the standings. In fact, only the Mets (3.7 fWAR) and White Sox (3.5 fWAR) have posted a higher fWAR than Houston’s starters (3.4 fWAR).
It isn’t a coincidence that this staff’s performance has gradually improved as various pitchers have returned from injury. Framber Valdez, last season’s ace, has been terrific since his return from the IL. Jake Odorizzi is still shaking off the late start to his season, but he hasn’t allowed a run in his last nine innings. Lance McCullers Jr. is also back in action. Combined their returns with the performances by Zack Greinke, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy thus far, the rotation has become more of a strength in recent weeks.
The question is whether the Astros will stick with a six-man rotation for the foreseeable future. On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense to help keep some of the pitchers fresh and help manage their workloads. But the state of the bullpen during the next month or two will hold considerable sway. It isn’t out of the question that Garcia could be a candidate for a bullpen assignment or even Odorizzi if his performance suffers in the short term. But this is a good problem to have right now. You can never have enough pitching in the rotation, especially as we approach the dog days of summer.