The Astros are inching towards wrapping up the division. With 16 games left and a 3 game lead on Oakland, it's going to take a massive tank job and the A's going nuttier than they already have to lose this thing. The odds are pretty decent the Astros won't go in the tank the rest of the month given that they're only playing one team that is actually still fighting for the postseason, and that's the Diamondbacks who are in town for three games this weekend at Minute Maid Park.
So with the inevitable inching closer, it's time to start playing the prediction game for what the Astros 25 man roster will look like for the ALDS, where they will most likely be facing the Cleveland Indians.
STARTING PITCHERS: (4)
1. Justin Verlander
2. Gerrit Cole
3. Dallas Keuchel
4. Charlie Morton
This group does not need an explanation for why they will be making starts for the Astros in the postseason. Of course in a five game division series, it is of course no lock that all of them will make a start, but this is my guess on how they will line it up.
We know Verlander will go game one and Cole in the second. The only question is the order for three and four. I have Keuchel in that three spot for now for a few reasons. I think they will want to use the lefty after using their two right handed workhorses in the first two games. Keuchel has been steadier than Charlie in the second half of the season to this point and I think that matters in this decision. The Indians have a good number of left handed bats and Keuchel in a potential close out game might force Terry Francona into some interesting lineup decisions with Dallas on the bump. Charlie has crushed left handed hitters since he landed in Houston, so AJ Hinch is in a pretty good spot in terms of how he wants to juggle the three and four spot when it comes to matchups.
1. Roberto Osuna
2. Hector Rondon
3. Ryan Pressly
4. Brad Peacock
5. Joe Smith
6. Collin McHugh
7. Tony Sipp
8. Lance McCullers
9. Josh James
We know Osuna has the 9th. We know that Rondon and Pressly will most likely have the 7th or 8th in whatever order the matchup game says they should do it. With the postseason being a different beast, both of those guys could be used earlier in games in high leverage spots, wherever those spots might be.
We also know how valuable multiple inning guys have been for the Astros bullpen over the last two seasons, and there really is not a team that can match them in terms of relievers that can give you multiple innings. Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh are the guys that will most likely be the first two guys called on if the Astros are in need of multiple innings out of the pen in a short series.
I believe that we will see AJ Hinch use Tony Sipp, his only lefty in the pen, in very small amounts that might only be a batter or two at time, much like he used Francisco Liriano in the 2017 postseason.
Joe Smith has been nails after a tough start to his season, but with his lack of high end velocity and unorthodox delivery, he profiles as another situational matchup based bullpen arm in the postseason.
The last two that I listed are the wild cards to this entire thing. Lance McCullers started and worked out of the pen last postseason and came up big in both spots in the ALCS and World Series. We know that if he is deemed healthy and ready to go, he will be coming out of the pen for the Astros the rest of the way, returning to the rotation next season. I put him on the roster as of today due to the fact that all of the news around him as of late has been positive, and if all goes as planned for him this weekend in Florida, where he will pitch in with the Astros instructional league, he should be back with the team before the regular season ends. It would be a shock to me if we see him working four innings out of the pen like he did last post season to close out the ALCS, but he can obviously be used in a multiple inning role and has the high end stuff to pitch in a one inning role towards the back end of any ballgame.
AJ Hinch carried eleven pitchers on the roster in the 2017 ALDS against the Red Sox. And with knowing that, it makes me question my prediction that they will carry thirteen in the ALDS this season. But I'm going with it. Josh James has come up and really flashed for the Astros in his appearances this September. With the Astros not needing to carry three catchers this year, I have used that spot to pencil in James this year. You can never have too many guys that run it up around 100 on the gun in the postseason and that's really the main reason I have placed him on the roster.
To wrap it up on the bullpen and pitching as a whole, I am actually going to predict that my prediction of the Astros carrying 13 pitchers in the ALDS ends up wrong with it being highly unlikely that they all would be used in a five game series.
1. Martin Maldonado
2. Brian McCann
The only question here is who gets the bulk of the time behind the plate. Brian McCann caught every inning of the postseason in 2017, but with McCann just recently returning from the disabled list after knee surgery and the addition of the 2017 AL Gold Glove winner in Maldonado, there's no shot he will be the only guy to put on the gear for the Astros behind the plate in the 2018 postseason.
The pitchers have appeared to be on the same page with Madonado from the day he arrived in Houston. With that and his superior defense, I would be surprised if he does not get the large majority of the playing time in October.
1. 1B- Yuli Gurriel
2. 2B- Jose Altuve
3. 3B- Alex Bregman
4. SS- Carlos Correa
5. 1B/DH- Tyler White
No explanation needed here at all. I would be surprised to see Tyler White used in the field at all in the postseason. He has hit his way into the Astros primary designated hitter role and until he gives them reason to not use him there, he's the guy.
1. LF/UTL- Marwin Gonzalez
2. CF/RF- George Springer
3. RF/LF- Josh Reddick
4. CF- Jake Marisnick
5. LF- Tony Kemp
Marwin Gonzalez started every game in the 2017 postseason in left and with his bat heating up in the second half of the regular season after a brutal first half, I think you see him start the majority of the games in left again this season. If his bat goes ice cold again however, Tony Kemp could see some starts.
Defense in beyond important in the postseason and we know how important it was for the Astros in 2017. The Astros optimal defensive outfield has Springer in right, Marisnick in center and Reddick in left. You can go ahead and lock it in that those three guys will be out there when they have a lead late in a game.
How they use Marisnick and Kemp will be interesting. The only guy that is a lock to be in the outfield every single night in October is Springer. It should not surprise anyone if Marisnick starts when they face a lefty starter. But the question is, are they willing to possibly punt two spots offensively against a lefty starter? You would think that against left handed pitching, they will use Maldonado behind the plate.
Tony Kemp's value to this team is massive. He has helped stabilize their outfield in terms of offensive production with the up and down seasons of everyone else the Astros have run out there this year. He takes professional at-bats, knows the zone and brings so much value to the bottom of the lineup with his ability to just put the ball in play while rarely striking out. The leash for struggles will most likely be shorter this postseason and Kemp could find himself starting plenty of games if someone is not bringing enough production at the plate.
PLAYERS OF NOTE LEFT OFF ROSTER:
P- Chris Devenski
P- Will Harris
P- Framber Valdez
P- Cionel Perez
C- Max Stassi
DH- Evan Gattis
It is hard to believe that Chris Devenski might not pitch again for the Astros this season after the regular season ends, but that is where we are at right now. If he pitches multiple times over the last few weeks of the season and looks like the great Chris Devenski we have seen for the majority of his career, maybe he sneaks his way on to the roster if the Astros do in fact carry thirteen pitchers like I have penciled them in for at the moment.
Will Harris has quietly pitched very well since August 1st, allowing just three earned runs in his 13 and 2/3 innings pitched, striking out 15 and walking just 3 in those innings. He unfortunately does not have a great track record in the postseason overall, so given that and his rough three month stretch this year from May through July, I think a lot of things would have to happen for him to make it on the postseason roster.
Framber Valdez still has a chance to be used in the postseason as a situational lefty, but needs to bounce back from his first rough outing this week and show a vastly improved ability to throw strikes, if he wants to be in the mix come postseason time. I listed Perez here only due to the fact that he is a lefty with a big fastball...but he's barely pitching at all now, so he it is beyond likely that he has any chance to pitch in October.
Max Stassi played a huge role for this team this season and that will not be forgotten. He stepped up and hit enough, proving that he has a future at the big league level. He'll be on the bench, but will not be playing for this team unless health dictates it.
Evan Gattis is the player that will ruin my first crack at this prediction if it is wrong. They will not need 13 pitchers in a five game ALDS. Or at least I hope not. I left him off on my first crack because his role is just so limited at this moment. He is only a designated hitter that is currently not their designated hitter. In a pinch hit only role, Tony Kemp will be the first guy called on if he is available on the bench. And while it would be a risk to use McCann as a pinch hitter, he could very well be used in that role as well when he is on the bench. Gattis is a low on base, low contact percentage guy that strikes out a lot. For now, all of those factors have pushed him off the roster for me.
ALDS Roster Predictions 1.0 is done now. Come back next week to see if I have any hot takes and leave someone off that is on there now.