Here are 5 Astros who need to step up in a Verlander-less rotation for playoffs

Houston Astros starting pitcher Zack Greinke, top, throws against Colorado Rockies Charlie Blackmon, right, during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke) (Michael Wyke, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – For two months, the Astros hoped they would get Justin Verlander back to lead the team through the playoffs. But that isn’t happening.

Now the team’s ace will be Zack Greinke for the playoffs with a patchwork of young and recently-injured pitchers to finish out the season.

Here’s a look at who the Astros have left in their rotation.

Zack Greinke

STAT LINE: 3-2, 3.90 ERA, 62 K in 61.1 IP over 11 starts

Greinke has been one of the Astros' most consistent pitchers and has settled down after a slow start to the year. The veteran got his ERA as low as 1.84 before giving up at least three runs or more in his past six starts.

Lance McCullers Jr.

STAT LINE: 3-2, 4.87 ERA, 40 K in 44.1 IP over 9 starts

McCullers is in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, which is typically a down year for pitchers as they’re getting their feel back.

McCullers has been a mixed bag this season, having two 7-inning scoreless starts (including his last one) and a few rough ones including a game where he gave up 8 earned runs to the Diamondbacks.

McCullers' playoff experience should be an advantage, but he’s clearly still fighting back to his best self after Tommy John surgery. His strikeout numbers being down isn’t a great sign.

Cristian Javier

STAT LINE: 4-2, 3.33 ERA, 48 K in 48.2 IP over 9 starts (11 appearances total)

The rookie has arguably been the Astros most consistent starter, pitching to a 3.33 ERA through Saturday’s start vs. the Diamondbacks, where Javier went 4 innings, giving up 2 runs with 6 strikeouts.

The Dominican fireballer mixes speeds well and has had more good starts than bad ones. He’ll be valuable in the playoffs as he can pitch in relief, too.

Framber Valdez

STAT LINE: 4-3, 3.82 ERA, 68 K in 63.2 IP over 9 starts (10 appearances total)

After a rough first start, Valdez has lasted deeper into games than any other Astros starting pitcher. The lefty’s K/9 numbers are strong, and his ERA would look much better if he didn’t give up 8 ER vs. the Angels a couple of weeks ago. Valdez had a 1.85 ERA in in August, and his strikeout stuff has played up all season.

Jose Urquidy

STAT LINE: 1-1, 2.70 ERA, 10 K in 16.2 IP over 3 starts

Urquidy battled back from COVID-19 and is starting to round into form after an impressive rookie season in 2019.

Urquidy struggled to get swings and misses in his first two starts, but was extremely impressive Tuesday vs. the Rangers, pitching 7 innings of 1-run ball and striking out 7.

He will likely be the Astros #3 starter in the playoffs if he’s healthy.

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