There are essentially two objectives for the Astros as they finish out September: Stay healthy (as much as a baseball player reasonably can be this late in the season), and clinch the number one seed in the AL. The latter is increasingly likely with an eight-game lead over the Yankees with only 12 games remaining on the schedule. Unfortunately, the former is still up in the air as long as regular season games remain. Might I recommend they bubble wrap a couple of players as a precautionary measure?
Barring injury, however, the roster does appear fairly set heading into the postseason, at least among its core players. That said, there is room for debate on the margins, specifically in the bullpen. First, here are the virtual locks among the club’s relievers to make the ALDS roster.
- Ryan Pressly
- Ryne Stanek
- Héctor Neris
- Bryan Abreu
- Rafael Montero
With teams allowed to carry up to 13 pitchers, there are cases to be made for various hurlers, namely Hunter Brown, Will Smith, Seth Martinez, and Phil Maton. Alsut the possibility that a trio of starters — Luis García, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier — may find themselves on the roster either as a starter or reliever. With Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr. as the likely candidates to start the first three games of the division series, it realistically leaves room for only one other starter to make an appearance. Plus, if this series goes to five games, you better believe that Verlander is taking the ball in either Game 4 or 5.
The decision about who makes the ALDS roster and their respective roles likely hinges on a handful of factors. Matchups, for example, play a role to some degree. As of this writing, if the Astros clinch the first overall seed in the AL, their division series opponent may be the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Rays. Who better aligns with how the pitching coaches want to approach certain hitters? How about situational moments and a pitcher’s specific profile? For example, Maton and Smith are both leaned upon to generate outs against left-handed hitters. The former was utterly terrific last October before regressing this season, while the latter’s performance in Houston — 2.60 ERA in 17 1⁄3 innings — inspires confidence. Considering Dusty Baker’s preference for a left-handed reliever, Smith is a probable addition to the roster, while Maton’s inclusion is less certain.
My personal favorite to make the postseason roster is Hunter Brown, who has the swing-and-miss potential to become a difference maker in the right situation. While I don’t think he starts, especially in the ALDS in a five-game set, the 24-year-old has the profile to pitch well in relief, as we saw during his recent three-inning stint on September 19 when he reached 98.2 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball in addition to 11 called strikes and five whiffs. It would be a downright shame if the Astros chose not to utilize him well in October.
The Astros have numerous options to fill out their postseason bullpen, which is a luxury to have in today’s game. Unfortunately, at least one to two pitchers who deserve a postseason roster spot in the ALDS won’t receive one. Martinez and García feel like the two likely candidates to not make the postseason roster, with Maton also a possibility. It may not generate much drama leading into October, but this is one development to watch for the remainder of September.