HOUSTON -- The Astros are expected to line up their big three starting pitchers against the Yankees to begin the American League Championship Series, though not in the order they probably would have preferred.
Manager AJ Hinch is expected to announce on Friday that right-hander Zack Greinke will start Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. That would line up the Astros to follow with a pair of 20-game winners: right-hander Justin Verlander in Game 2 at home on Sunday night and right-hander Gerrit Cole in Game 3 on Tuesday in New York, both on full rest.
“I would guess, based on how we’ve used our pitchers, that would be a likely outcome,” Jeff Luhnow, president of baseball operations and general manager, said on Thursday.
In the AL Division Series win over the Rays, the Astros went with their preferred order of Verlander in Game 1, Cole in Game 2 and Greinke in Game 3. Hinch decided to bring back Verlander on three days of rest in Game 4, but Verlander didn’t make it out of the fourth inning.
Cole answered the call in Game 5 on Thursday, holding Tampa Bay to two hits and one run while striking out 10 batters in Houston’s 6-1 series-clinching win. He struck out a Division Series-record 25 batters and is 18-0 in his last 24 starts. Cole is on one of the most dominant runs of any starting pitcher in recent memory, but the Astros will have to wait until Game 3 to use him.
One of the reasons Houston acquired Greinke at the Trade Deadline was with an eye on New York, which features a powerful right-handed lineup. Greinke went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros before a forgettable performance in a Game 3 loss to the Rays. He allowed six runs and five hits, including three homers, in 3 2/3 innings.
Greinke faced the Yanks twice this year, while still with the D-backs, and had a 2.13 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in 12 2/3 innings.
“Our right-handed starters can get righties and lefties out. I’m not worried about that,” Luhnow said. “[The Yankees] do have a lot of righties, and that's going to force us to think through the roster and who we’re carrying, because it’s a little different than the teams we’ve been facing. ... They’re really good and hit the ball a long way. We’re going to have to pitch them well.”
The big challenge for the Astros will be Game 4. They will have to find a starter for that contest considering it’s unlikely they would being Greinke back on three days of rest. The most likely candidate is rookie Jose Urquidy, who bumped veteran lefty Wade Miley from the rotation in September. Houston could make it a bullpen game and could add right-hander Brad Peacock -- a former starter -- to the roster for the ALCS.
Regardless, Greinke, Verlander and Cole would be lined up start Games 5-7, should the series go that far. Verlander threw seven scoreless innings in Game 1 against the Rays and came back on short rest in Game 4 and allowed four runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.