Compared to the circus acts Dusty Baker had to do last year before and during the postseason in terms of pitching, the 2022 playoffs find the Astros in a much better place, with a well-needed depth, and a doubt-free staff. On paper, they have what they lacked last year.
Let me bring some things to the conversation. In 2021, the Astros had a burned-out Zack Greinke, a pretty questionable, inconsistent Jake Odorizzi, a tired Luis García, and they were going without living legend Justin Verlander – who was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
If that’s not an ugly enough scenario, Lance McCullers Jr. suffered a tough injury after Game 4 of the ALDS and missed the rest of the postseason. Plus, their bullpen was good, but not as deep as this year’s or with as many late-inning options.
Let’s go with this year’s staff. The Astros have an outstanding big three to start the first three games of any series, formed by Cy Young frontrunner Verlander, Framber Valdez, and McCullers Jr. Those three combined to go 39-12 with a 2.31 ERA over 424 innings and 67 starts.
But in case they need another starter, there are plenty of options. Luis García and Cristian Javier enjoyed a strong finish in the regular season, José Urquidy made 28 starts, and even rookie Hunter Brown can make an emergency start if needed after a great showing – and assuming he will be on the roster at some point of October.
Speaking of Javier, he actually deserves a spot in the postseason rotation. After Framber and JV, he was the Astros’ best starter with 148 2/3 innings, 194 strikeouts, and a 2.54 PCL (3.16 FIP). In his last four outings, the Dominican righty went 3-0 throwing 23 scoreless innings with six walks and 29 punchouts while his opponents posted a .240 OPS.
Going to the bullpen, they have another multiple-inning weapon they didn’t have last year. That’s Bryan Abreu, who finished the season with a 4-0 record, a 1.94 ERA, and 88 strikeouts across 60 1/3 innings.
It’s true that in 2021 they had Kendall Graveman, acquired from the Mariners, but this time they have Rafael Montero (2.37 ERA, 71 apps), Héctor Neris (3.72 ERA, 70 apps), and lefty Will Smith (3.27 ERA, 24 apps as an Astro), who appears to be made for the postseason – Smith didn’t allow a run and surrendered only five hits over 11 innings during the 2021 playoffs with the reigning World Champs Braves.
To those new arms, you have to add the fact that Ryne Stanek and Phil Maton are having a career year and closer Ryan Pressly registered a career-high 33 saves, the fourth-best mark in the American League.
Obviously, time will tell how the Astros will do in their sixth straight postseason appearance, but at least when it comes to pitching, they have weapons to win a war, an October war.