Hidden in the onslaught of the Astros 8.3 runs per game during their 11-game winning streak was the effectiveness of the pitching, especially the starting pitching during this streak. The starters put up a 1.95 ERA over those 11 games and were extremely consistent as they went less than five innings once and gave up only three earned runs once in those games.
This has been a continuation of an ever-improving starting staff, which early on had been a solid top five staff in the AL and now with improving health has taken aim at the White Sox for the best staff in the majors. Currently, the starting staff is first in the AL in wins (34), second in ERA (3.30), first in WHIP (1.08) and second in innings pitched (430.1).
The excellent results from the starters have been despite injuries that have slowed down a number of their corps. Framber Valdez, who was their best pitcher in 2020, especially the playoffs, missed all of April and almost all of May with a finger fracture that nearly cost him the 2021 season. Jake Odorizzi, who was brought in after the Astros thought they might not have Valdez at all in 2021, pitched in three games and then missed a whole month of the season. Lance McCullers and Jose Urquidy were both out for almost 3 weeks during the season.
And that does not even touch on the giant albatross in the room (hanging around the Astros salary cap) – Justin Verlander, who will be making $66 MM for 6 innings work over the 2020 – 2021 seasons. This brings us to the real reason this is an amazing starting staff when you look at everything they’ve lost from the rotation since the 2018 season.
- Verlander – only the 2019 Cy Young award winner and the main pitching architect behind their 2017 World Series charge
- Gerrit Cole – who maybe should have been the 2019 Cy Young award winner
- Charlie Morton – who was 29-10 for the Astros in two seasons and then came in third in the Cy Young after going to Tampa Bay in 2019
- Dallas Keuchel – who won a Cy Young with Houston, two-time All Star, 4 time Gold Glover
- Wade Miley – who went 14-6 for the team in 2019
- Collin McHugh – 58-35 in 6 seasons with the Astros who received both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young votes along the way
- Brad Peacock – ultimate swingman, who went 13-2 in the World Series season
That is seven quality arms gone from 3 seasons ago. So, how have the Astros filled in behind them in 2021? With a seven-headed assault of their own.
- Cristian Javier – The young right-hander has been a terrific swingman himself as his successful jaunt to the bullpen has shown. But to begin the season in 9 starts, he was excellent with a 3-1, 3.14 ERA.
- Zack Greinke – At 37 years old, the “unique” one is leading the staff in wins (8) and innings (98.2 IP) with a solid 3.56 ERA and 1.115 WHIP.
- Luis Garcia – Garcia, though, thought of as one of the Astros top pitching prospects has to be considered the biggest surprise on the staff. He has never pitched at AA or AAA ball, having pitched in 15 games at A+ in 2019. He pitched 12 innings for the Astros in 2020 and had a 2 inning scoreless start in the postseason. Though he showed well, there is no way what he has done so far in 2021 could have been expected. In 13 starts for the team, he is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.123 WHIP. He has pitched far beyond what his age and experience level would lead you to believe was possible.
- Lance McCullers Jr. – Despite missing a few starts and occasionally losing his composure a bit, Lance has been a very effective pitcher for the team with a 5-1 record, 2.94 ERA, 1.173 WHIP and 9.8 Ks/ 9 IP.
- Framber Valdez – After missing almost 2 months of the season, Framber is now back and has picked back up as the Astro’s best pitcher. In his 6 starts since the return from the IL, he is 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.991 WHIP and is already back to six and seven-inning stints.
- Jose Urquidy – After a good showing in 2020, Urquidy has been very good again in 2021, only struggling with a little too good (hittable) control at times. He has been 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA and an excellent 0.962 WHIP and looks like part of a long term rotation for the team.
- Jake Odorizzi – After 3 starts before his injury and 2 starts after it, Odorizzi was making the fans wonder if he was weakening rather than strengthening the rotation with a 7.16 ERA. But in his last 4 appearances (3 starts including tandems with Javier) he has given up 3 runs in 19 innings for a 1.42 ERA. He has looked a lot more like the 2019 All Star he was with Minnesota.
One of the biggest pluses of this journey is that the Astros will return six of these seven for at least the next couple seasons with Greinke being the only near term free agent.
So how surprised are you with how well this rotation has performed to date?