Well, those good vibes didn’t last long. Following a pair of impressive performances against the White Sox in the ALDS, Lance McCullers Jr. is likely unavailable for at least the ALCS.
However, the club hasn’t officially announced whether McCullers will miss any time at this juncture. A second opinion is being sought before any hard decisions are made.
For the Astros, this development is an obvious blow to their championship aspirations. McCullers was not only the club’s top starter this season, he was also among the best in baseball with a 3.16 ERA and 27 percent strikeout rate in 162 1/3 innings. Thanks to a newly-added slider to his already formidable arsenal, the right-hander took his performance to a new level in 2021. His offseason contract extension now looks more like a bargain than ever before.
But where do the Astros go from here as it pertains to the ALCS against the Red Sox? After all, losing a pitcher who limited the White Sox to a single run across 10 2/3 innings is sub-optimal, no matter how optimistic you might be about the rest of the roster. One option is to bump either Zack Greinke or Jake Odorizzi back to the rotation following their recent stints in the bullpen. Honestly, it will probably be the former as Greinke was pitching reasonably well prior to a second half slump.
Regardless, it is within reason to see the Astros resort to a piggyback situation where the starter goes three-to-five innings followed by the other in relief. In any case, I’d look for Odorizzi to make the ALCS roster if McCullers is listed as inactive. Another potential avenue is to utilize Cristian Javier as the opener and hope he gets through the opposing lineup at least once. If the Astros could figure out to replicate April’s version of Javier by any measure, then that would make for a nice surprise.
More news is likely to come by later today or tomorrow when the ALCS roster is officially set. Stay tuned.