Let’s talk players and playoff possibilities now that the Astros have clinched the AL West

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Ryan Pressly #55 and Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros celebrate winning the American League West Division following a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 19, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) (Mike Ehrmann, 2022 Getty Images)

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Hey guys, it’s Ari Alexander checking out the Astros latest postseason run with you. Houston has now clinched the AL West, winning the division for the 5th time in the past 6 seasons, and are yet again closing in on 100 wins.

CY BATTLES

Justin Verlander is the prospective Cy Young favorite, leading the American League in ERA, WHIP and wins. Verlander is also likely to win comeback player of the year, after missing all but one start in 2020 and all of 2021 with a UCL tear in his right elbow.

Beyond Verlander, Framber Valdez has as good of a chance as any pitcher to finish top 5 if not top 3 for the American League Cy Young. Valdez leads the AL in innings and has a 2.57 ERA along with an MLB record 25 straight quality starts.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 18: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros tips hat to the crowd as he set a new Major League Baseball record of 25 straight quality starts against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park on September 18, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) (2022 Getty Images)

One of his primary rivals, Shane McClanahan of the Rays just got tagged for 5 runs by the Astros and hasn’t been able to keep up his first half pace in the second half of the season. Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah and Shohei Ohtani are also battling for Top 5.

WHO STARTS IN CENTER FIELD IN THE PLAYOFFS?

The Astros series against the Rays gave Houston a good chance to see what they lost in Jose Siri, who was sent to Tampa as part of the Trey Mancini trade. Siri is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, leading MLB in Outs Above Average for an outfielder with 14. Siri also struggled to hit in Houston, striking out at astonishing rates before picking up his batting some with Tampa thanks to every day at bats. Without Siri, Houston will rely on Chas McCormick and Mauricio Dubon with the prospect of a revitalized Jake Meyers. McCormick has acquitted himself well, hitting to a similar clip as last year (103 OPS+ vs. 107 OPS+ in 2021) and playing slightly above average defense. McCormick won’t hurt you but also doesn’t have any “wow” tools. With the depth of Houston’s lineup, it shouldn’t hurt the Astros. Dubon is a positive defensive player in center field but has struggled to hit throughout the season. McCormick should likely get around 70% of the playing time in the playoffs.

WHO STARTS GAME #4?

The top 3 starters are set for the Astros playoffs (Verlander, Valdez, McCullers, Jr.) but who starts game #4 in any series? Jose Urquidy was making a strong case with a 2.44 ERA from Mid-June to September before struggling in his last couple of starts. Luis Garcia has arguably been the 6th best starter on the team this season while Cristian Javier has a sub-3.00 ERA but the most bullpen experience. A dark horse? Hunter Brown. The rookie has the best stuff of the 4 pitchers with his 98 MPH fastball, 94 MPH slider and hammer curveball. One creative solution would be to start Brown twice through the order and piggyback him Urquidy or Garcia. That leaves Javier to come in as a multi-inning weapon.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Astros are chasing 100 wins (they’ll get it) and maybe 108 to break the 2019 team’s win record of 107. Houston faces Baltimore on the road through the weekend then comes home to see the Diamondbacks and Rays.

You’ve just read my thoughts, now what are your playoff predictions? Sound off on the postseason in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


About the Author:

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