Inbox: How will Astros' rotation look in playoffs?

Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers questions from fans

September 18th, 2017

HOUSTON -- Now that the Astros have clinched the American League West title, they'll turn their attention to recapturing the best record in the AL, which means passing the Indians. Houston is 1 1/2 games behind the Indians with 13 games remaining (the Indians have 12).

If the Astros can grab the top spot in the AL, they would not only have home-field advantage in the Division Series and League Championship Series, but they would play the Wild Card Game winner in the Division Series, which figures to be a more favorable matchup than facing the Red Sox.

As we await Tuesday's series opener against the White Sox, let's open up the Inbox and see what's on your mind:

What do you think the rotation order will look like come the playoffs? Do you think it would make sense to have Dallas [Keuchel] and Lance [McCullers] start the first two home games because they are dominant/better at home, respectively? [Justin] Verlander can perform well on the road?

-- Jarek Z., New Braunfels, Texas

First, the Astros have to figure out what they're going to do with McCullers, who made one start since coming off the disabled list and then was scratched prior to his next start with arm fatigue. The rotation is mapped out through Saturday, and McCullers isn't in it. That leaves him with time to make one or maybe two starts by the end of the regular season to gauge his health and availability for October.

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I believe that no matter if they start the playoffs at home or on the road, the Astros will have some combination of Verlander and Keuchel pitch in the first two games. They'll have the luxury of lining up their pitching and should take advantage of it. Keuchel won a huge playoff game on the road at Yankee Stadium in 2015, so he's got the ability to dominate away from home, too. Plus, his only complete game this year came on the road, and it was at Cleveland (April 25). That's the Astros' only win over the Indians in six tries this year.

Should [Carlos] Beltran or [Evan] Gattis get major playing time at DH in the postseason?

-- Sean W., Houston

Ultimately, it will be based on matchups, but I expect them to split time at designated hitter. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said last week Beltran is likely to be limited to DH duties against only right-handers, against whom he's hitting .250 (as opposed to .190 against left-handers). Gattis is also hitting right-handers (.285) better than left-handers (.224), but has more success against southpaws this year than Beltran.

We have seen teams (i.e. the Royals) really try to shorten games in the postseason with good bullpens. How do you see the Astros trying to do that between [Will] Harris, [Joe] Musgrove, [Chris] Devenski, and [Ken] Giles (and possibly [Brad] Peacock or McCullers)?

-- Aaron M., Houston

The Royals started a trend, so to speak, and it's become a popular strategy in the playoffs to have your elite relievers pitch high-leverage innings, even if that happens earlier in the game than the ninth. The Indians do that better than anybody, and the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians have three of the top bullpens in the game. The Astros don't, so it will be harder for them to employ that strategy consistently.

Devenski will be a big key. If he's effective, he could be used in multiple ways. Musgrove has emerged as a bullpen force and has the ability to go multiple innings, so he will factor prominently. If Peacock doesn't make the rotation, he's another guy who can throw multiple innings and can pile up strikeouts, which makes him a weapon. Giles and Harris will continue to be used as one-inning guys for the most part, but Hinch might have to get creative.

Now that the Astros clinched the AL West Division, do you think we will see more of the rookies playing these last few games remaining?

-- Mayra B., Houston

Not necessarily. The Astros are still chasing the best record in the AL and say they're going to keep their foot on the pedal until that's been decided. hit a big homer Sunday and figures to still get at-bats, but I don't see wholesale changes to the lineup just yet.

Can you give us a refresher on playoff rosters? Typical number of pitchers carried? Reset before each round? Changes the Astros might make between ALDS and ALCS?

-- Brad, Metairie, La.

Sure. Any player who was in the organization on Aug. 31 -- and that includes Verlander by a hair -- is eligible to be on the playoff roster, which is capped at 25 players. The roster is set just prior to the start of Game 1 of each series, and yes, the roster can be changed between series. So if a player doesn't make the playoff roster for the Division Series, he can be added for the League Championship Series, assuming someone else gets taken off. In 2015, the Astros' ALDS roster had 11 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and six outfielders.

Hey Brian, what moves do you see the team making this winter? Our roster is already solid of course, but there are spots we can shore up, yes?

-- Ethan G., The Woodlands, Texas

Yes, of course. The addition of Verlander clears up a need for another front-line starting pitcher. I think their biggest need will be in the bullpen. They could use a quality left-handed option as well as another late-inning arm that's dependable. Giles, Harris and Devenski all return, but Gregerson, Clippard and are free agents and unlikely to return. There are holes to be filled.

When will and make their next starts?

-- Cory L, Round Rock, Texas

 Keuchel will start on Thursday against the White Sox, and Verlander on Friday against the Angels.