Tough decisions await Astros in playoffs

September 21st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

What the Astros have done the past eight seasons has been nothing short of remarkable -- seven trips to the playoffs in eight seasons, five American League West titles in the past six years, a shot at their fourth 100-win season in their past five full seasons and five consecutive AL Championship Series appearances. Oh, they also won three pennants and the 2017 World Series.

Now that the Astros have clinched the division title and are eyeing the best record in the AL, general manager James Click took some time this week to discuss their success and the upcoming playoffs with

MLB: You still have six starters you can choose from. How much better do you feel positioned with the pitching that you have compared to last entering the playoffs when it was thin?

James Click: I think the fact that we are sending guys with ERAs that start with 2 [Seth Martinez] to the Minor Leagues says about everything that you can say about our pitching and our pitching depth right now. [Owner] Jim Crane likes to say that there's three things in baseball: Pitching, pitching and pitching. I've told him in the past that we had the first two, and we're working on the third one.

We might actually be at the spot where I can say that we have all three, but if you think about pitching depth, you have it, and it goes quicker than you can anticipate. So it has been a particular area of focus for us to make sure that we have the depth to get through 162 [games] while also having the ability to shorten up our roster in the playoffs and reconfigure our rotation and our pitching staff in a way that's appropriate for a short series.

It sounds like you’ll have some tough decisions to make in the playoffs.

Well, inevitably that's going to happen, especially with the off-days in the ALDS. We won't need a fourth starter unless we end up in a five-game series, and so we are going to prioritize, over the next few weeks, determining what roles guys will have the most success in and testing some guys out, maybe in some roles that they haven't been in, because of the nature of pitching in a short series.

As far as  goes, what do you think of what he's done so far? What role could he play for you going forward?

We're still getting to know Hunter. He obviously has hit the ground running. I think it's been very impressive what he has done in his first couple of starts [and he pitched three scoreless innings in relief Monday]. He may be a weapon for us out of the bullpen, he may be a guy who goes one inning, he may be a guy who goes through the order once.

We've certainly seen a graying of the line between starters and relievers in baseball over the past few years, and I think he has the ability to help us out in a wide variety of roles. It's up to us to find out how we can put him in the best position for success.

Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña will be getting his first taste of the postseason, while taking over for one of the franchise’s great playoff performers in Carlos Correa. What are you hoping to see from him in October?

Well, the decision to have him on the taxi squad [for the playoffs] last year was deliberate, and it was not necessarily because we anticipated this, but we thought it was vital for his baseball education. And being in the dugout last year in the playoffs was a lot like going to graduate school for baseball. Seeing him continue to mature, continue to adjust, continue to refine his approach at the plate has been one of the most positive aspects of our season.

You can't replace what Carlos Correa has done in the postseason for this franchise. ... If we want to get this thing where we want to go, no one player is going to do that. It's going to be a total team effort.