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Postseason Success For The Astros Rides On The Arms

While the offense was respectable in 2022, Houston’s championship aspirations begins and ends with their vaunted pitching staff.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I don’t necessarily like to nitpick a 106-win club. While there were numerous eye rolls this season at Dusty Baker’s lineup configurations, it was ultimately a small price to pay. Thankfully, the Astros had enough talent throughout the roster to make any questionable lineup decisions a moot point across 162 games. Considering the small sample size of the postseason, you could make the right decision in most instances and still come away with a loss. I am spoiled, like many fans, by the level of success this organization has produced since 2017, despite some self-inflicted wounds along the way.

But, if I could nitpick for a moment about the 2022 Astros, their greatest weakness lies with the offense, which feels strange to write for a lineup that posted a 112 wRC+ on the season. After all, only five clubs posted a higher wRC+ than Houston. Its best hitters (Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker) are no slouches, with a combined 152 wRC+ on the season. But there are real concerns about a couple of positions: first base, catcher, and center field. The relative lack of production at those positions could be exploited in a short series. Also, this lineup has struggled to get on base compared to recent full seasons.

Astros OBP, since 2017

  • 2017: .346
  • 2018: .329
  • 2019: .352
  • 2021: .339
  • 2022: .319

I guess I am getting at that the Astros probably won’t win their second title on the back of their offense. Sure, they’ll need a productive lineup to win in October. For example, it’ll help if Alvarez can break his streak of 14 solo home runs to close out the season. Instead, they’ll likely need their pitching staff to continue what it has done all season: reign supreme — or close to it — at run prevention.

Least Earned Runs Allowed By Team, 2022

  • Dodgers: 451
  • Astros: 465
  • Yankees: 533
  • Rays: 544
  • Braves: 556

The Astros are so efficient about preventing runs because they also don’t allow that many home runs. This season, only San Francisco (132) allowed fewer dingers than Houston (134), thanks partly to the new offensive environment. Out of all Astros with at least 20 innings pitched this season, the only pitchers with a home run-per-nine inning rate higher than 1.00 was Cristian Javier (1.03), Luis Garcia (1.32), Phil Maton (1.37), and Jose Urquidy (1.59). Home runs, for better or worse, are a significant factor in determining the eventual winner in a postseason series. We saw that firsthand in last year’s Fall Classic as the Astros only mustered two home runs — both were courtesy of Altuve — compared to 11 for the Braves.

Thanks to a rotation led by Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, the Astros have at least four quality starters on their postseason roster. Urquidy and Garcia, two capable starters in their own right, will likely find themselves in the bullpen or off of the ALDS roster entirely, which is incredible when you think about it for a moment. Plus, the bullpen has plenty of options to utilize with a variety of impressive arms. There is no shortage of pitching this year, unlike last October when the staff was arguably running on fumes by the time of the ALCS against the Red Sox. We’ll see if this depth is enough to win the last game of the season once again.