The Houston Astros currently stand three games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem in the AL West standings. There are another 55 games scheduled for the Astros until the season ends, which sorts out to another 11 starts for each starting pitcher.
Just after acquiring Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, it seemed as if the Astros were headed towards a six-man rotation for the time being. Besides Kazmir and Fiers, the Astros were going to trot out Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr., and Scott Feldman. Though they may have never said it, that’s what appeared on the lineup card the last few days.
But things appeared to change on Monday night after McCullers Jr.’s one-out performance, forcing Fiers into action out of the pen. Following the loss against the Rangers, the Astros could have simply slotted Kazmir and Feldman into action on Tuesday and Wednesday night and both would have been on normal rest. However, instead of doing such, the Astros decided to call up Dan Straily to start Tuesday night, thus leaving the current six-man rotation in place.
We know the Astros want to monitor both McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez‘s innings this season. As noted yesterday, my solution for McCullers Jr. was to send him to the bullpen for the next month and save him for starts in late September and in the playoffs. Instead of sending him to the pen, the Astros decided to send him down to the Minors for a short stay to give him a bit of a breather.
I previously preached for a six-man rotation in June and July but now I am against it…at least for now. The Astros can’t afford to give starts to Straily or other starters at AAA. Those sixth-day starts could be given to Keuchel and Kazmir and would give the Astros better chances at winning on those days. If the Astros were to go with a six-man rotation starting now, instead of the 11 starts that each pitcher would get with a traditional five-man rotation over the next 55 games, they would instead get nine. That’s four starts of both Keuchel and Kazmir you are losing in order to add a sixth man to the rotation.
Yes, the Astros have mentioned they would like to keep Keuchel’s innings a bit down this season, but there is a playoff race to be had. For August, the Astros need to keep trotting their best starters out there every five days and a guy like Straily (or other AAA pitchers not named Brett Oberholtzer) shouldn’t make the cut.
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What I would do is go with Keuchel, Kazmir, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman over the next month. They should send McCullers back up to the Majors and to the bullpen to keep his innings down. Once September rolls around and the roster expand, I’d like to see Velasquez or Oberholtzer enter the rotation as the sixth man for the first few weeks of September. Then at about the mid-September point, re-insert McCullers and send Feldman and Velasquez/Oberholtzer to the pen to end the season with a five-man rotation.
The AL West is still completely up for grabs with 55 games to go. The Astros need to continue throwing out their best option every day and going to a six-man rotation would not be a wise decision at this time. But once September rolls around, the Astros will have a much clearer vision of what lies ahead and at that point it may be time to go to a six-man rotation.
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