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Sorting Out A Full Strength Starting Rotation

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros currently have six starters on their active roster: Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Luis García, José Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Jake Odorizzi. The club is also employing a six-man rotation for the second time this season to mainly keep their veteran arms fresh for the upcoming postseason. Rewatch the 2019 and 2021 postseason to understand why I am OK with the six-man rotation for now. In addition, Lance McCullers Jr. is inching closer to a return, so Houston finds itself with an enviable problem: How best utilize seven average to above-average starters?

It is pretty challenging to decide who deserves to lose their starting job. We already know Verlander, Valdez, and Garcia are the safe bets to remain in the rotation, barring injury. Javier and Urquidy have pitched well, but there are occasional clunkers. Odorizzi recently made his return from the IL official, and outside of a rough first start back, the veteran right-hander has pitched relatively well. In fact, the only starter with an ERA over 4.00 for the season is Urquidy at 4.08, primarily due to the Mariners scoring 15 earned runs against him in 13 innings. Against any club not based in Seattle, Urquidy’s ERA plummets to 2.99, which would only trail Verlander and Valdez.

At this juncture, considering what we already know, I’d venture to speculate that Javier could be the odd man out in the rotation when McCullers Jr. makes his return. McCullers Jr. would be an exciting candidate for the bullpen from a pure stuff standpoint; however, the Astros value his contributions as a starter more, which makes sense. One point to remember is Javier’s relative success as a reliever this season and last, especially in a multi-inning role. Also, there arguably isn’t a better pitcher suited among the likely candidates to make a successful transition back to the bullpen as Javier. Odorizzi, probably not. Urquidy could, but he isn’t proven in a relief role.

The Astros could also use this surplus in starters to address other areas of the roster leading up to the August 2 trade deadline, although I would caution against it. After all, it is better to have an abundance of pitchers than to run into a pinch. We all remember what happened last postseason when McCullers Jr. was unavailable, with Valdez and García essentially running on fumes by the World Series. Plus, I’d argue Houston wouldn’t receive equal value on the market for a controllable pitcher like Urquidy for what they’re searching for on the market, such as another reliever or backup catcher.

Regardless of the allocation of starters for the rest of the season, the plan for Houston is clear: Make it through the remainder of the season with hopefully a healthy, well-rested — for postseason standards — rotation. Once October rolls around, the plan is to have Verlander, Valdez, and McCullers Jr. form a strong trio of starters in a short series with García, Urquidy, Javier, and Odorizzi on standby.