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Still, manager A.J. Hinch faces some key decisions in terms of which players can help off the bench and in what roles. He has enough pitching depth to fill four spots in the starting rotation, but the health of starter Lance McCullers Jr. will factor prominently into the rotation and bullpen alignment.
Here’s a look at five questions facing the Astros in putting together their playoff roster:
1. Who will start Game 1 of the ALDS?
If the Astros face the Yankees in the ALDS, you could make the case for Dallas Keuchel as the Game 1 starter, considering his career domination of the Yanks, including a victory over them in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game. Keuchel is 5-2 with a 1.24 ERA in seven career starts against the Yankees, including the playoffs. But it seems more likely the Astros go with Justin Verlander in Game 1, regardless of the opponent. Verlander (4-0, 0.64 ERA in first four starts in Houston) has started 16 games in the playoffs (7-5, 3.39 ERA), including Game 1 of the ’06 and ’12 World Series.
2. If the Astros carry three catchers, who will be the third?
Brian McCann and Evan Gattis will carry the bulk of the catching load, but if the Astros decide to carry three catchers, which is likely, they’ll have to pick between Max Stassi and Juan Centeno. Centeno is a bit stronger defensively and calls games with more conviction, while Stassi is a better hitter and pitch-framer. Keep in mind, the third catcher will get some key playing time late in games, considering the Astros would pinch-run for McCann and/or Gattis, if needed.
3. Who will get the last spot on the bench?
The injury to outfielder Jake Marisnick (broken right thumb) has opened up a spot among position players. Rookie Derek Fisher, a left-handed hitter, is likely to get the reserve outfield spot behind George Springer, Josh Reddick and Cameron Maybin. On the infield, Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez are locks, leaving a spot open for either Tony Kemp, Tyler White or J.D. Davis.
Kemp, a lefty bat, runs better than either White or Davis — both right-handed — and he can play multiple positions. He also produces tough at-bats and draws walks, which could make him valuable. White, though, could be a solid pinch-hit option when Hinch hits for Reddick against high-end lefty relievers late in games. Davis has more raw power.
4. Who will be third/fourth starter?
Right-hander Brad Peacock appears likely to begin the ALDS in the rotation behind Verlander and Keuchel, considering his consistent body of work as a starter throughout the season. The fourth starter would come from a group that includes right-handers Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh and McCullers, who made only his second start since July 30 on Sunday because of injuries. McCullers is a lock to make the postseason rotation if he’s healthy. Peacock and Morton would go to the bullpen if they don’t make the rotation, but the Astros may try to avoid using McCullers in relief. If McHugh’s not in the rotation, he’s an unlikely bullpen option as well.
5. What relief pitchers will make the roster?
It’s likely that the Astros will carry 11 pitchers — four starters and seven relievers — in the ALDS. The look of the rotation will have an impact on the seven relief pitchers they carry, but Ken Giles, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove and Francisco Liriano — the only lefty in the group — are locks. That leaves out Tyler Clippard, Michael Feliz, James Hoyt, Francis Martes, Tony Sipp and Reymin Guduan. It’s interesting to note Mike Fiers, who leads the team in innings pitched, likely won’t make the ALDS roster after a poor August and September.
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