BOSTON -- The Astros don't have to set their American League Division Series roster until Wednesday -- one day before Thursday's Game 1 against the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park -- and much of the discussion in the coming days will likely surround how to best utilize starting pitcher Lance McCullers
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McCullers allowed five earned runs and six hits while striking out six batters in 4 1/3 innings in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park in his 22nd, and final, start of the regular season. For the season, McCullers was 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings.
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Former Cy Young winners Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36 ERA) and Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA) will start Games 1 and 2 in some order, and Brad Peacock (13-2, 3.00 ERA) and Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) have made strong cases, as well, to be in Houston's four-man rotation for the ALDS presented by Doosan.
Where does that leave McCullers, a first-half All-Star who battled injury for much of the second half of the season?
"No decisions are really going to be made until next week," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We'll get together with the coaches and the guys at the office and come up with our roster in general, and then, obviously, that will include some roles for guys, so we'll see."
McCullers went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 16 starts in the first half of the season en route to being named to his first All-Star Game. He was 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA in four July starts before going on the DL at the end of the month for the second time with back discomfort. He came back in early September and dealt with arm fatigue, but wound up making three starts in the month.
He was stretched out to 83 pitches Saturday -- his most since July 30.
"I'm here to do what I can for this team to win a World Series," McCullers said. "A lot of guys here are having great seasons so they can make their decision. I think my 300-and-some-odd innings here as a pitcher and my postseason experience, it is what it is.
"If they decide to use me one way or the other, I'm going to lace up and try to do whatever I can to help this team win, whatever role I'm in. Obviously, I want to start. I think that is where I serve the greatest possibility for success, but like I said, if I have to come out of the 'pen, if I have to be like in a [David] Price-type role, let's do it."
Hinch is bullish on Peacock and will likely award him with an ALDS start. That leaves Morton, McCullers -- and perhaps even Collin McHugh -- for the fourth slot. Both Morton and McCullers have elite fastballs and could be multi-inning weapons out of the bullpen. Morton went 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA in his final five starts.
"Honestly, I know everyone's anxious to get the answer," Hinch said. "We don't really need to have an answer yet. We'll consider a lot of things -- recent body of work, full body of work, best matchup against the Red Sox -- now that we know our opponent."