The World Series gives the experience of the arms of Astros
HOUSTON – Even when the Astros won the American League West title, questions had started – how long could they last in the playoffs without those top horses they had relied on so heavily in the past?
And later, when Lance McCullers Jr. was declared unable to pitch as the Division Series ended, questions arose again: no Justin Verlander, no Gerrit Cole and, now, no McCullers – can they to succeed ?
Turns out they almost did. Although the Astros fell to the Braves in the World Series, losing the game 6, 7-0, there are some bright spots that give cause for optimism going forward.
While not perfect, these four have had their World Series moments as well. In the absence of the luxury of the horses at the top, the Astros had to replenish their pitch, day after day, week after week, until November.
There were times, especially during the AL Championship Series, when just figuring out how to lead Astros pitchers through a nine-innings game seemed like a challenge. And yet the Astros were here, one of the last two teams standing and with a chance to force a Game 7 in the Fall Classic.
“We’re really proud of these young guys,” said veteran wide receiver Martín Maldonado. “Hopefully they’ve embraced this and will keep moving forward. Having Javier, Framber, Urquidy, these guys… they’re going to be around for a long time. They got a taste of the playoffs. playoffs and World Series, and we’ll be counting on them next year.
If experience counts, Garcia could emerge as the ace next year. Consider the jump he made from year to year: in 2020 he pitched a total of 12 1/3 innings in the major leagues. This year he’s achieved that in the playoffs alone, pitching 15 2/3 innings in October (and November). That’s on top of the heaviest workload he’s ever had in the regular season at all levels. He pitched 155 1/3 innings, compared to 108 2/3 he recorded at two minor league levels in 2019.
Was it a little unfair to let him start Game 6 on a short rest? May be. Garcia was scheduled for about three innings, maybe four if he kept the damage to a minimum. The first two innings were almost perfect – he struck out three batters and kept the pitch count low. But the third inning started off with an Ozzie Albies single to right field, and things worked out from there. Eddie Rosario scored two strikeouts and Jorge Soler sent a 446-foot homerun to the front of left field, giving the Braves the advantage, 3-0.
“I went to the mound and told him this was his last hitter, and empty the tank,” said Brent Strom, who revealed he won’t be returning as the Astros pitching coach in 2022. “He tried too hard on a cutter and left it in the middle. Soler does what Soler does – he hit a missile.
The immediate consequences of losing a World Series leave a bitter taste, and it will be some time before Astros launchers can look back on the month and pull some bright spots. But here’s an advantage to playing this deep into a calendar year: Spring training goes quickly. And while there is an inevitable roster rollover – on the pitching side, Zack Greinke is a free agent – Astros pitchers will feel a lot more familiar when they reunite in Florida in a few months.
“I stay focused on next year,” Garcia said. “I’m working on some of the things I’ve adjusted for these last two outings and felt really good. Stay focused, be ready to work, and focus on whatever awaits you next year.
The October race, although incomplete, could bear fruit in the future. Urquidy now has three years of playoff experience. Valdez, a stabilizer in the rotation during the regular season, has recorded nearly 20 innings in the playoffs, and Javier could return to the rotation next year.
“The future is really bright for these young guys,” Strom said. “They’ve been under control for a few years, and they’re only going to get better.”