Sports

Astros Week: AL West Clincher and Postseason Pitching Dilemmas

Framber Valdez set the single-season record for consecutive quality starts at 25.
Framber Valdez set the single-season record for consecutive quality starts at 25. Photo by Jack Gorman
The Astros have managed to shut out one of the best teams in the AL for 18 straight innings beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-0 on Tuesday night in a matchup with Rays Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan. With the win, they reduce their magic number for the best record in the American League to just six.

This team is rolling, winning seven consecutive series and ranking at the top of nearly every statistical pitching category in baseball. This coming off their win on Monday night that made them the AL West champs for the fifth time in six seasons. With only a baker's dozen games left in the season, there is some sorting out to do for the postseason and a couple notable honors.

Clinching the AL West, AL next.

The Astros won Monday night to clinch the AL West yet again. While it was a tad anticlimactic, it was, none the less, another big moment for a team that remains consistently great. Now, they are just six wins (or combined Yankee losses) away from the best record in the American League meaning home field advantage throughout the eastern conference playoffs.

This team has been absolutely relentless in its pursuit of another title and is clearly one of the top two or three teams in baseball. At 98-51, they need to go 9-4 to match the franchise record of 107 wins, 10-3 to beat it.

Yordan wins player of the week and Framber breaks a record.

Yordan Alvarez was named AL Player of the Week hitting .520 with a 1.280 slugging percentage, five home runs and 10 RBIs. This is the second time he was named player of the week this season, having also won player of the month in June. Whatever issues he was having with his hands, those are clearly gone.

Meanwhile, Framber Valdez broke the single season record for consecutive quality starts with 25. The previous record of 24 was held by Jacob Degrom, the Mets ace who did that in 2018. Valdez threw six innings of shutout baseball in the win over the Rays on Monday and has entered the Cy Young Award discussions to go with his fellow Astro, Justin Verlander, who is the odds on favorite.

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Will Lance McCullers be in the starting rotation in the postseason?
Photo by Jack Gorman
How do you sort out the pitching?

Speaking of pitching, the absolute wealth of talent in the rotation and the bullpen has led to a remarkable problem for Astros management. How do you sort out your playoff rotation. They can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers, but they arguably have seven starters, never mind relievers. Seth Martinez, who has been outstanding out of the 'pen this year was send down to Triple A when Verlander returned from his calf injury.

It is unlikely they will pitch more than four starters in the ALDS, a five-game series, but who are the odd men out? It is plausible that Luis Garcia, who has been fantastic lately, could wind up left off the initial playoff roster given his lack of time in the bullpen. Instead rookie phenom Hunter Brown, who pitched three scoreless on Monday, could get the nod, which would allow Christian Javier to stay in the starting lineup with Verlander, Valdez and Lance McCullers or Jose Urquidy. But, there are MANY questions to be answered in the next few weeks.

Who do you want to face in the ALDS?

And speaking of that, who exactly will the Astros face and who would you want. The AL Wild Card race seems to be down to the Rays, the Mariners and the Blue Jays. The Rays have some hitting issues, but are one of the best in baseball on the mound. The Blue Jays have George Springer and the thought of him pummeling the Astros is just gross. But, the Mariners have been on a torrid hot streak for well over a month and are solid across the board offensively and defensively. There's also the Guardians, who would be no easy out.

In five games, anything can happen, so it's a tough call as to who the Astros would want. Our money is still on the Blue Jays or Rays at this point, but given how good they have been overall, no team would want to face the Astros in the divisional round.

Jeff Balke covers the Astros weekly for the Houston Press and co-hosts the Bleav in Astros podcast with former third baseman and current Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum. Follow him on Twitter.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke