- Right knee discomfort forced Luis Garcia out of yesterday’s ALCS Game 2 in the second inning, though the Astros right-hander appears to have avoided serious injury. Manager Dusty Baker told FOX 26’s Mark Berman (Twitter links) and other reporters that Garcia threw a bullpen session today, and the righty himself said “I feel really good, and I think whenever they say it’s time for me to get back on the mound I’ll be good to go.” It isn’t known when Garcia might be able to pitch again, or if he’d be used in a starting or a relief capacity. Garcia only threw 33 pitches in Game 2, but was also torched for five runs on three walks and two hits, including a J.D. Martinez grand slam.
- Baker also told Berman and other media that Jake Meyers was throwing today, and the outfielder is doing better in the wake of his left shoulder injury from Game 4 of the ALDS. Meyers collided with the outfield wall in pursuit of a Gavin Sheets home run and had to leave the field in the second inning. The Astros included Meyers on their ALCS roster though he has yet to make an appearance against the Red Sox.
5:06PM: Garcia left the game due to discomfort in his right knee, the Astros announced.
4:34PM: Astros starter Luis Garcia made an early exit from Game 2 of the ALCS, leaving with a possible injury in the second inning. After issuing a four-pitch walk to Kevin Plawecki to begin the frame, Garcia was visited on the mound by the team trainer, and ended up departing after consultation with manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom.
It has already been a nightmarish day for Garcia, who allowed four runs in the first inning thanks to a J.D. Martinez grand slam. Only 14 of Garcia’s 33 pitches were strikes, continuing the control problems that plagued his first postseason start — Garcia allowed three walks and five hits in 2 2/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS, a 12-6 Astros loss to the White Sox.
The 24-year-old Garcia entered the playoffs on the heels of a quality rookie season that will surely net him some AL Rookie Of The Year consideration. The right-hander posted a 3.30 ERA/3.91 SIERA and above-average strikeout (26.4%) and walk (7.9%) rates over 155 1/3 innings for Houston this season, starting 28 of his 30 games.
That solid form hasn’t continued into October, however, and now Garcia could be in danger of missing the World Series. If Garcia’s injury requires him to be substituted off Houston’s roster, Garcia would be ineligible to pitch for the next postseason round, should the Astros advance past the Red Sox.
The other major concern for the Astros is that if Garcia is seriously hurt, the team is running short on pitching. Lance McCullers Jr. (flexor pronator muscle strain) is already an omission from the ALCS roster and might not even be an option for the World Series if the Astros make it. Game 1 starter Framber Valdez lasted only 2 2/3 innings, requiring a big effort from Houston’s bullpen to salvage the victory. Jake Odorizzi took over for Garcia in relief, so the veteran’s availability for future games might be in question depending on how long he pitches today.
Jose Urquidy is scheduled to start Game 3 at Fenway Park, and Odorizzi’s usage today likely means that either Cristian Javier or Zack Greinke (who has been used as a reliever this postseason) will be starting Game 4. With the red-hot Boston lineup hitting everything in sight, the Astros pitching staff faces a tall order for the remainder of the ALCS.
- Despite his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and the negative public sentiment that’s followed him since, expect Carlos Correa to cash in big this winter, writes The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. MLBTR agrees, having placed him atop the free agent rankings back in August. Indeed, Correa has been the face of the Astros post-scandal, and even that could be construed as a positive for his next club. His talent is unquestioned, and he has certainly proved that he can withstand just about any level of public criticism.
The latest updates from manager Dusty Baker on the Astros’ plans moving forward…
- Jose Urquidy will get the start in game three over veteran Jake Odorizzi, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Urquidy has flashed star potential during his Houston tenure, including at times this season. He made 20 starts with a 3.62 ERA/4.14 FIP over 107 innings with a 21.3 percent strikeout rate, 4.5 percent walk rate, and 31.7 percent flyball rate. Urquidy beat the Red Sox back on May 31st, tossing six innings and yielding just one run on three hits while striking out nine.
- Rafael Montero threw a bullpen session today. The Astros are holding out hope that Montero could be helpful in the World Series, should they survive the Red Sox, per ESPN’s Marly Rivera (via Twitter). Montero had a disastrous season with the Mariners, getting tagged with a 7.27 ERA over 43 1/3 innings, despite a 4.05 FIP. The Astros acquired him along with Kendall Graveman at the trade deadline. He made four scoreless appearances with the Astros before shoulder discomfort sent him to the injured list.
In the strictest sense, this is good news for the Astros, as it doesn’t immediately rule him out for a potential return in the World Series. That said, there’s not a lot of news beyond that. He remains out for the League Championship Series and it would seem only an outside shot at returning this season, should the Astros advance. The Astros are now three wins away from their third World Series appearance in the last five years.
The Astros have yet to announce their game three starter, though manager Dusty Baker’s choice very well may depend on how they fare in tonight’s game two. Luis Garcia takes the bump tonight have never pitched into the fourth inning of a postseason game. After getting just 2 2/3 out of Framber Valdez yesterday, it will be interesting to see if Baker feels compelled to give Garcia more leash. Bakers used eight of his 13 rostered pitchers to get the win in game one.
The Astros have suffered a notable blow to their ALCS roster, which was announced this morning and does not include ailing right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. His status for the ALCS was up in the air after he exited last round’s decisive Game 4 due to forearm discomfort and underwent a subsequent MRI. The team hasn’t made a formal announcement on McCullers’ injury just yet, so it’s not clear whether he might be able to return for a potential World Series push. Houston also dropped third catcher Garrett Stubbs for their showdown with the Red Sox.
Replacing McCullers and Stubbs on the ALCS roster are right-hander Jake Odorizzi and lefty Blake Taylor. Odorizzi will give the team an additional option in the rotation with McCullers sidelined, while Taylor gives manager Dusty Baker a second southpaw option in the bullpen. Here’s how the roster breaks down…
- Luis Garcia (Game 2 starter)
- Yimi Garcia
- Kendall Graveman
- Zack Greinke
- Cristian Javier
- Phil Maton
- Jake Odorizzi
- Ryan Pressly
- Ryne Stanek
- Jose Urquidy
The veteran Odorizzi had a rocky go of things in free agency last winter, as his eventual two-year deal with Houston fell a ways shy of expectations. Many teams opted to barely spend at all in free agency on the heels of a season without ticket revenues, and Odorizzi was one of several players who struggled to find a fit. His contract with the ’Stros was signed well into Spring Training, preventing the righty from getting full ramp-up to the season. Some rust was apparent early on, when Odorizzi gave up nine runs through eight innings total across his first three starts. He hit the injured list with a pronator strain, returned a month later, and looked much more like the version of Odorizzi we’ve generally come to expect.
From May 29 forward, Odorizzi pitched to a 3.72 ERA with a 19.8 percent strikeout rate and 7.7 percent walk rate. The results were generally solid, but Odorizzi averaged fewer than five innings per start as the team rather rigidly opted against letting him face opposing lineups a third time through the order. That led to some vocal frustration from Odorizzi when asked about a quick hook in a postgame press session late in the season, but the right-hander said a day later that things had been smoothed over after an open and candid talk with Baker, pitching coach Brent Strom and general manager James Click.
The exact role Odorizzi will have in the ALCS isn’t clear. He’s stayed in shape and prepared in the event that he’d be added to the roster after being omitted from the ALDS. He could be utilized as a long-relief option, but it’s also plausible that he’ll be called upon to make start in the middle of the series. Houston has only announced Valdez and Garcia as the Game 1 and Game 2 starters for now. Presumably, the Game 3 and Game 4 starters will be decided based on early usage for the staff in the first two games and the broader context of wins and losses in the early going.
Houston’s decision to omit McCullers also creates the possibility that he could be added back to the ALCS roster as an injury replacement, depending on how his forearm progresses. Had the Astros included him on the initial roster and then had to remove him once again, he’d have been rendered ineligible for the World Series, should Houston advance that far.
Both League Championship Series are now set, following the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the Giants in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Over the next week-plus, we’ll see the Astros (home field advantage) battle the Red Sox for the AL pennant while the Braves (home field advantage) take on the Dodgers for the NL crown.
All four teams are dealing with either uncertainty surrounding a key player. It’s still not clear whether the Astros will have Lance McCullers Jr. for the ALCS after he exited his last start against the White Sox due to forearm discomfort and underwent an MRI. On the other side of this matchup, Red Sox star third baseman Rafael Devers has been playing through a forearm injury that has impacted his swing but has yet to detract from his production.
The Braves, meanwhile, don’t know when or whether they’ll get slugger Jorge Soler back into the mix after he tested positive for Covid-19 just hours before their own Game 5 showdown against Milwaukee. The Dodgers have been without Max Muncy throughout the postseason, and both manager Dave Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman were deliberately vague when asked about him following last night’s win (Twitter links via Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times and Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register).
With just four teams remaining in the field and a fresh pair of best-of-seven series set to kick off over the next two days, it seems like a good time to give MLBTR readers a chance to weigh in on who they’re taking in the ALCS and the NLCS (and perhaps an avenue to voice their thoughts on any, um… questionable… calls from last night’s game).link to poll for Trade Rumors iOS/Android app users)
The uncertainty stems not from an uneven rotation, but from an uncertain group of relievers. Manager Alex Cora’s other available starters – Eduardo Rodriguez, Tanner Houck, and Nick Pivetta – will be available out in the bullpen for the start of the series, writes MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer. That’s a strategy that worked for Cora in the ALDS. Pivetta proved crucial out of the pen against the Rays, a performance redolent of Eovaldi’s own in the 2018 World Series. Houck tossed seven innings of relief in the series as well, yielding just a pair of runs.
Whereas the Red Sox were able to patchwork their bullpen for a four-game series win against the Rays, they will likely need an even more dynamic approach to survive a seven-game tilt against the Astros’ potent offense. There is definite potential for this series to turn into a slugfest, not only because these two clubs boast the first and fifth ranked offenses in the game by runs scored in the regular season, but because the Astros are likely to be without Lance McCullers Jr. Results of the MRI on his sore forearm have yet to be revealed.
McCullers may not be viewed nationally as an ace, he’s been nothing short of stellar in the postseason. He owns a 2.83 ERA in 57 1/3 career postseason innings.
And while McCullers can boast the distinction of having started a game seven of the World Series back in 2017 (a win), he could be replaced by another righty who’s held that honor. Zack Greinke started game seven of the World Series in 2019 for Houston (a loss), and though he’s not likely to put up a full starter’s load, he could be used as an opener in McCullers’ stead, writes The Athletic’s Jack Kaplan. Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Jake Odorizzi are also candidates to pick up bulk innings if McCullers is unavailable.
What we do know is that Framber Valdez will take on Sale in game one, while Luis Garcia will go head-to-head with Eovaldi in game two, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. The Red Sox have the experience edge, but Valdez is no stranger to postseason success. Garcia, meanwhile, has at least gotten his feet wet in the playoffs: he had a scoreless two-inning outing in 2020 and 2 2/3 innings as the starter in game three versus the White Sox.
1:27 pm: Houston general manager James Click tells Brian McTaggart of MLB.com and other reporters that the club is still evaluating the results of McCullers’ MRI.
12:51 pm: Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. left his final start of the club’s Division Series win over the White Sox after four innings due to some tightness in his forearm. Jon Heyman of the MLB Network now reports (Twitter link) that McCullers is likely unavailable for the upcoming AL Championship Series against the Red Sox, which is scheduled to begin on Friday. However, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that he might be able to return for the World Series, should the Astros advance.
It doesn’t seem to be a long-term concern, as Heyman reported this morning that an MRI suggested McCullers “should be fine in the long run.” That aligns with the pitcher’s initial assessment of the injury, as he told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t believe the issue to be related to his ligament. McCullers missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Given that injury history, it’s no surprise the Astros are expected to play things cautiously with McCullers over the coming days. He remains a vital part of the franchise’s long-term future, having signed a five-year, $85MM extension in March that’ll take effect beginning in 2022.
Still, his (presumed) absence will be felt over the upcoming series, as McCullers is arguably the Astros’ top pitcher. This season, he worked 162 1/3 innings of 3.16 ERA/4.01 SIERA ball. As he typically does, the righty posted well above-average strikeout and ground-ball rates (27% and 56.4%, respectively). That offset an elevated 11.1% walk percentage to allow McCullers to post the fifth sub-4.00 ERA season in his six-year MLB career.
In McCullers’ absence, Houston looks likely to turn to some combination of Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Zack Greinke to start against Boston. Jake Odorizzi was a healthy scratch for the Division Series, although he could be brought back onto the ALCS roster in McCullers’ place to offer an additional starting and/or multi-inning relief option.
Carlos Correa’s top priority is getting the Astros back to the World Series, so while the star shortstop’s free agency will be a hot topic once the season is over, Correa doesn’t want his 2021 campaign to end any time soon. However, Correa did address his pending trip to the open market while speaking with NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer, and seemed to hint that a reunion in Houston seems unlikely.
The two sides had talks about an extension last spring, with the Astros reportedly floating offers of six years/$120MM and five years/$125MM. Even at the time, however, Correa had a dim view of how serious the Astros were, saying “there were not really any negotiations,” and that the Astros “made it clear to me they don’t believe in long contracts, they don’t believe in big contracts.”
In his more recent remarks, Correa again addressed those preseason contract talks, saying “It was like, ’Take it or leave it; this is what we’ve got.’ And now my value has gone up. If they didn’t want to meet my price in spring training, now that I led the league in [Baseball Reference] WAR at 7.2 and I’m in the playoffs helping the team, I don’t know if they’ll meet my price now.”
Earlier this week, Houston owner Jim Crane said that he feels his team still has “a chance” to retain Correa, and that the Astros will “definitely be in the mix” with the shortstop’s other suitors. The Astros haven’t signed a contract longer than five years during Crane’s tenure, and while the owner indicated that “things can change” on that front, Correa seems to have his eye on a much longer commitment.
Correa celebrated his 27th birthday only a few weeks ago, making him a rare top-tier free agent who is hitting the market at a younger age. “A lot of people don’t believe in 10-year contracts and in long-term deals and all that. But when you look at most of the 10-year contracts they’ve been giving out, the long-term deals, they’re players that are 31, 30, 32,” the shortstop noted. “I’m going to be 27 on my first year. I’m young, I’m healthy, and I perform. So we’ll see what happens.”
While another championship ring would perfectly cap things off for Correa, 2021 has already been an excellent platform year for the impending free agent. Shohei Ohtani was technically the overall bWAR leader due to his unique two-way contributions, but as Correa noted, the shortstop did indeed lead all regular position players in bWAR while hitting .279/.366/.485 with 26 home runs over 640 plate appearances. That also marks his highest number of PA since 2016, as Correa avoided the injuries have hampered him for the previous four years and missed only a week due to a stint on the COVID-related injury list.
Between his youth, All-Star production, and possibly with some doubts silenced about his durability, Correa projects as arguably the top free agent on the market this winter, let alone the top option in a loaded class of shortstops. In addition to his offensive numbers, Correa pointed out that he also led all players in defensive bWAR (2.9) in 2021, “so when you talk about shortstops that can do both things at an elite level, I think you should mention my name.”
While it remains to be seen just how high the bidding will get, Correa stressed that “I want to win. Money’s great and everything, but I don’t want to be miserable in the clubhouse, losing every day.” Wittenmyer’s piece was written through the lens of Correa as a potential fit with the Cubs, so the fact that the Cubs are coming off a losing season and may have more rebuilding to do might rule them out as a legitimate contender to sign Correa this winter. For what it’s worth, Correa did talk glowingly about a pre-draft workout at Wrigley Field in 2012, though the Cubs never got a chance to pick Correa since the Astros quickly pounced on him as the first overall selection.