Magic number season for the Houston Astros

Houston Astros' Justin Verlander laughs at a teammate during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson) (Duane Burleson, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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Hey guys, it’s Ari Alexander writing to you today.

For Houston fans, it’s once again getting to be magic number season as the Astros are counting down the days to clinching the AL West yet again. Houston has a 12.5 game lead over the Seattle Mariners and are far closer to breaking their team record for wins (107) than they are in danger of losing the division. Let’s check out what’s been going on this week.

VERLANDER TO RETURN

Justin Verlander’s minor calf injury has subsided enough to where the AL Cy Young leader returns Friday to pitch against the Oakland Athletics. Verlander only missed a handful of starts and is 10 innings away from qualifying for the Cy Young Award. Verlander has a 1.84 ERA this season and is the only qualified starting pitcher in MLB with an ERA under 2.00.

Houston’s ace will need to prove he’s healthy to reclaim the #1 spot in the rotation for the Astros playoff run.

That’s because of this guy:

Houston Astros pitcher Framber Valdez throws against the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

STILL QUALITY

Framber Valdez recently threw his 24th consecutive quality start. He and 2018 Mets ace Jacob deGrom now share the modern era MLB record for consecutive quality starts in a season. Jacob deGrom pitched to a 1.70 ERA and won the NL Cy Young that season and Valdez is now entering the Cy Young race due to his consistency. Not only did he throw a quality start, Valdez pitched a shutout against the Tigers and dropped his ERA to 2.50 on the season, good enough for 5th in the American League. Valdez leads the majors in quality starts, is 3rd in MLB in innings pitched. Valdez has likely solidified himself in the Top 5 for AL Cy Young but will have to battle his teammate Verlander, Dylan Cease of the White Sox, Shane McClanahan of the Rays and Alek Manoah of the Blue Jays to move up.

GETTING HEALTHY

The Astros welcomed back versatile bat Aledmys Diaz to the lineup, and outside of the injury to Michael Brantley, Houston is rounding into the playoffs relatively healthy. Verlander returns Friday, Ryan Pressly is back from his neck strain and the Astros can field a full lineup, bench, rotation and bullpen for the most part.

The rotation especially bodes well, with a potential set up for Verlander - Valdez - McCullers Jr. - Urquidy for games 1-4. That leaves the Astros to potentially throw Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown out of the bullpen. Javier has the most playoff bullpen experience and is pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA this season. Hunter Brown has a fastball that touches 99 with a slider he can run up to 96, both of which could play up out of the bullpen. Luis Garcia, the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year Runner-Up might have to battle for a playoff role as he’s had a bit of a down season (4.04 ERA in 140.1 IP). Besides one terrific start in Game 6 of the 2021, ALCS, Garcia has struggled in the playoffs, with the Astros going 1-4 in his playoff starts last season.

WHAT’S NEXT

Houston hosts the Oakland A’s at home over the weekend before heading to Tampa for a matchup against Jose Siri and the Rays at the Trop. Don’t be surprised if the Astros clinch the AL West next week.


About the Author:

Murrow and Emmy award-winning sports anchor & reporter. Avid traveler, mediocre golfer. Loves good food, good friends and southern rap.