It's still a couple weeks before the playoffs and the division race hasn't even been settled yet, but there's no reason we shouldn't start digging into the possible 25-man roster for the Astros. Will they take 13 pitchers or expand the lineup? What young guys might get into the playoffs for the first time? There are plenty of tough decisions to be made. Here's a very early look at who will be there.
Starters (4): Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton
Relievers (5): Roberto Osuna, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith, Collin McHugh, Ryan Pressly
This is pretty straightforward with the four starters, the closer and the four most consistent, healthy bullpen arms the Astros have. The bullpen is also bolstered as the playoffs go along and starters are limited in innings. It wouldn't be a shock to see Morton, Keuchel or both come out of the bullpen in crucial games. The bullpen has been outstanding this season and that will only make it better.
Catchers (2): Brian McCann, Martin Maldonado
Infield (4): Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman
Outfield (3): Marwin Gonzales, George Springer, Josh Reddick
This is the eight every day starters in the field plus Maldonado, who is the best defensive catcher on the ball club.
Will Harris, Tony Sipp, Chris Devenski
This gives the 'Stros a lefty specialist in Sipp, who has resurrected his career this season, along with stalwarts Harris and Devo, assuming Devenski is fully healthy in a few weeks.
Tony Kemp, Evan Gattis, Tyler White
This is where things get tricky. A few weeks ago, White would not have been in this conversation, but his hitting has been so hot, especially in clutch situations, it's impossible to leave him off. Kemp gives the Astros a late-inning lefty bad, great speed on the base paths and a solid outfield defensive replacement. With Gattis, you have your probably everyday DH and an emergency catcher if needed.
But, that leaves only one spot. It is likely the Astros will go with one additional pitcher to have 13 arms and 12 bats. But, there are arguments to be made for both.
Some of the most dynamic remaining Astros players spend their time on the mound. Brad Peacok has the experience despite not being terribly sharp all season. Josh James has been lights out in his relief appearances despite his age and lack of experience. And Framber Valdez not only has been very good, he's another lefty option out of the bullpen.
Then, there's Lance McCuller's, Jr. Last season, he came off the DL to make the playoffs and pitched out of the bullpen. This season, he does not appear close to coming back with only a couple weeks left. At this point, health is clearly his biggest obstacle and there is no reason to think he will overcome it before October.
This really comes down to Jake Marisnick. The Astros won't keep JD Davis or Kyle Tucker on the playoff roster. And as great a story as Max Stassi has been, they aren't going to put three catchers on the playoff roster, especially with Gattis's experience behind the dish. Marisnick, despite his early-season struggles, has battled back and become a decent bottom-of-the-order hitter. More importantly, he is the team's absolute best defender and one of the fastest on the base paths. Leaving him off will seem like the right thing, but it's a tougher decision than you think.
Who gets the final spot?
Right now, it feels like James gets the final spot. We will have to watch over the next few weeks to see if there are injuries or ups and downs in position battles, but for now, the young hot hand gets the nod.