HOUSTON -- There were a couple of surprises when Astros manager AJ Hinch unveiled his American League Division Series roster on Thursday afternoon. Game 1 against the Indians is set for 1:05 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park.The Astros are carrying 14 position players and 11 pitchers, as expected,
HOUSTON -- There were a couple of surprises when Astros manager AJ Hinch unveiled his American League Division Series roster on Thursday afternoon. Game 1 against the Indians is set for 1:05 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros are carrying 14 position players and 11 pitchers, as expected, but opted to go with hard-throwing rookie Josh James in the bullpen. Among those not on the ALDS roster are veteran relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon, who were both signed in December, and 2017 bullpen stalwarts Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock.
"By far, one of the most difficult decisions -- and really I say them as a group because there's some really, really good relievers that pitch well for us that carried the bullpen at certain times," Hinch said. "With Hector, he had a tough month. September was really his only bad month. He wasn't great in the second half as a whole, but most of that is weighted into September. Honestly, this is a very difficult offense to match up with, and some of the things that he does and some of his execution that he does didn't match up very well with very many areas of the lineup with the Indians."
Hinch also opted to go with speedy outfielder Myles Straw instead of carrying a third catcher, which would have been Max Stassi. Straw has appeared in only nine big leagues games, but has the kind of elite speed that will allow him to pinch-run for almost anyone on the roster.
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"We feel like Straw can be a huge impact on the bases, or even if I put him in defensively, maybe he gets an at-bat," Hinch said. "He is so fast he forced the third catcher off the roster, and that gives us a lot of weapons. It allows me to utilize Jake Marisnick in a different way. It allows me to save Tony Kemp's at-bat. I don't have to spend that as a baserunner. He's a potential upgrade for every player on our offense [as a runner]."
If the Astros advance, they can change their roster prior to the AL Championship Series.
Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA) will start Game 1 at 1:05 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park and lines up to pitch a possible Game 5. Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA) will start Saturday's 3:37 p.m. CT Game 2, and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA) will start Game 3 on Monday in Cleveland. Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.13 ERA) will start Game 4 on Tuesday in Cleveland.
Five of the seven relief pitchers weren't on the Astros' ALDS roster last year, including newcomers Roberto Osuna (12-for-12 in save chances in Houston) and Thomas Pressly (0.77 ERA with Houston), who were acquired in trades in July. Tony Sipp, who was left off the playoff roster last year, is the only lefty in the bullpen. Former starters Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers are in the bullpen, along with former All-Star Will Harris. Perhaps the biggest surprise is James, who has pitched in only six big league games.
The Astros' infield is as stable as it gets with Yuli Gurriel at first base, Jose Altuve at second base, Carlos Correa at shortstop, Alex Bregman at third base and versatile infielder/outfielder Marwin Gonzalez, who could get most of the starts in left field like he did last year. Correa hit .180 in 133 at-bats after coming off the disabled list with a back ailment on Aug. 10, so there remains some uncertainly about his health heading into the ALDS.
George Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP, will be joined by veteran Josh Reddick, Marisnick and Kemp. Marisnick was injured during the playoffs last year, and Kemp is making his first postseason roster. Straw has nine career big league at-bats but is on the roster because of his speed and pinch-running abilities.
Tyler White, who can play first base and third base, figures to get most of the at-bats at designated hitter over Evan Gattis. White had an .888 OPS in 66 games with the Astros this year and hit all of his 12 homers and his 42 RBIs in the final 47 games of the season. Gattis' raw power (25 homers in 407 at-bats) makes him dangerous if he gets hot.
The Astros carried three catchers in all three postseason rounds last year, including Gattis, who won't catch this year. Martin Maldonado, acquired in a July trade, has perhaps the best arm of any catcher in the game and should help neutralize Cleveland's running game. Brian McCann caught all but one-half inning of the Astros' World Series run last year, but expect Maldonado to get most of the starts in October.
Here is the Astros ALDS roster:
Lance McCullers Jr.
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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.