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How the First Three Games @ Arlington Changed the Playoff Pitching Picture

MLB: Houston Astros at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

A subplot of this crazy 2021 season has been the pecking order of the Astros’ rotation. From 2015 forward, the team had a slate of aces and then guys you hoped could stay healthy. Going into 2021, the Astros had.... guys you hoped could stay healthy.

Of course there was Greinke, the crafty vet who seemed never to slow down. And Framber, who was one of 2020’s best pitchers. And Lance, who always flashed the stuff and poise of a TOR starter.

Did the Astros have enough starting pitching to make it through 2021? was a major topic of off-season discussion.

Well, here we are in mid-September and the staff has been a strength, even without a clear ace. At the end of August, the main question was how two slightly-injured pitchers would fare upon their return, and whether Dusty would skip people’s starts in order to keep arms fresh.

This series in Arlington has changed that, one start at a time. First, Odorizzi had to leave in the 2nd inning, and is now on the IL with “foot soreness.” Then Greinke got bombed. And finally Urquidy spun an absolute gem. How does this change things? Let me suggest three ways:

  1. There’s almost no chance that Odorizzi makes it to the postseason roster. He would need to absolutely dazzle in the two starts he would have after returning from the IL.
  2. Greinke needs to show he’s playoff ready and only has three starts to do it. Can he miss bats? Keep the ball in the yard? Get righties out?
  3. Urquidy has a real chance to seize the bull by the horns. His stuff doesn’t blow anyone away, but he commands all of his pitches and profiles very much like a #3 starter. Plus, he’s only thrown 106IP across the minors and majors. His arm should be fresh. Three good starts, plus some slippage from Garcia, and it’s not far-fetched that Urquidy start Game 3 of the ALCS. Nobody would have said that at the beginning of the week.

As of today the Astros are 7 games up with 17 to play. Fangraphs gives them a 99% chance to win the division. They should win tonight and then fly home for three games with Arizona. Even limping to an 8-9 finish most likely means a drama-free final weekend of baseball.

The drama concerns roster construction and the jockeying for playing time. Can Marwin rediscover his magic? Can Jake Myers secure the starting CF job? Can Siri sneak onto the playoff roster? And how will the starting pitching line up against a front-four of Rodon, Lynn, Cease, and Giolito?