HOUSTON -- There is perhaps no better indication of the Astros’ starting pitching depth than the case of Luis Garcia. He had the best season of his career this year, going 15-8 with a 3.72 ERA, including 6-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his last seven starts.
In his final start of the regular season in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Rays at Minute Maid Park, Garcia held Tampa Bay to one run on three hits in six innings. He threw only 84 pitches because manager Dusty Baker said the righty was feeling under the weather (Garcia wasn’t available to the media postgame).
Even so, Garcia appears to be a longshot to make the Astros’ playoff rotation, at least in the best-of-five American League Division Series. That’s because Houston has the deepest rotation in the AL, led by Cy Young candidates Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, and four other arms that could start for any other club.
“[Garcia’s] had a good year,” Baker said. “For a young man [who went] 15-8, that’s pretty good pitching.”
It’s amazing to think both Garcia and teammate José Urquidy could be out of the Houston postseason rotation despite making 28 starts each. The Astros were 36-20 in games started by Garcia (19-9) and Urquidy (17-11).
The Astros may have tipped their hand on Garcia’s possible move to the bullpen when he warmed up in the 'pen to pitch in relief Sept. 25 against the Orioles. He ultimately didn’t have to pitch and wound up starting Tuesday when Lance McCullers Jr. came down with an illness.
The Astros will open the ALDS on Oct. 11 in Game 1 in Houston, with an off-day prior to Game 2 on Oct. 13. The series, if it goes the distance, will conclude with three consecutive games Oct. 15-17. Because of the off-day between Games 1 and 2, the Astros won’t need a fourth starter unless there’s a Game 5.
“We’ve got to see who’s going to be on the team in the first round, where we’re going to slot them,” Baker said.
Garcia finished the season strong after enduring a lull in the middle of the summer. He went 3-3 with a 4.93 ERA in seven starts from July 5-Aug. 12 before righting the ship.
“He’s locating his fastball better, and that’s where it starts,” Baker said. “The best pitch in baseball is still a well-located fastball, and if you can locate that fastball, it kind of opens up everything else.”
Here’s how the Astros’ rotation could look entering the playoffs:
Count them in ...
Justin Verlander: The veteran right-hander will put the finishing touches on a season that will likely result in his third Cy Young Award when he starts Tuesday against the Phillies. Verlander entered Sunday leading the AL in wins (17), ERA (1.80), WHIP (0.85) and opponents’ OPS (.508).
Framber Valdez: The lefty figures to finish among the leaders for the Cy Young Award after a season in which he threw a Major League-record 25 consecutive quality starts. He’s among AL leaders in wins, ERA and innings pitched and figures to follow Verlander in the postseason rotation.
Lance McCullers Jr.: McCullers’ start Monday against the Phillies will be only his eighth this year, having missed most of the season following a right forearm injury suffered in last year’s ALDS. Still, he has tons of postseason experience, having pitched in 16 games (nine starts). That includes starts in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers and Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS against the Rays.
Coming on fast ...
Cristian Javier: Javier will enter the postseason having not allowed a run in 25 1/3 consecutive innings, but his entire body of work in 2022 is why he'll likely be in the postseason rotation. He has eight starts this season of at least five innings and no runs allowed. Javier has struck out 194 batters and allowed 89 hits in 148 2/3 innings.
Don’t count out ...
Luis Garcia: See above
José Urquidy: Urquidy has already won three World Series games in his career, but that might not be enough for him to get a start in the ALDS because of Houston’s depth. Urquidy had the best season of his career, going 13-8 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in a career-high 162 1/3 innings across 28 starts.