The Houston Astros are set to begin their third World Series in five years, when they take the field at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday to face the National League champions, the Atlanta Braves.
In a perfect world, right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. should be starting Game 1 or 2 of the Fall Classic, but that won’t be possible.
The talented fireballer, who had a 13-5 record and a 3.16 ERA in 162.1 regular season innings, will not pitch in the World Series with a forearm injury.
Lance McCullers Jr. makes its official; he won’t pitch in World Series.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) October 25, 2021
The long-term prognosis is good, as doctor Neal ElAttrache saw his MRI and determined that his UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in his right elbow is fine.
However, he needs to rest his arm, because he is dealing with a forearm strain.
Those injuries typically require pitchers to rest their arms for 6-8 weeks.
He should be good to go for Spring Training, but the bad news is that the Astros need him now.
It won’t be possible, though, and the club will have to do its best to navigate through the Braves’ good lineup without one of its best starters.
How Can Houston Work Around McCullers’ Absence?
Ideally, a team would need four starters for a best-of-seven series.
Greinke and Urquidy didn’t fare too well in the ALCS against Boston, but both pitched well in the regular season (4.16 and 3.62 ERA, respectively) and there are reasons to believe that they should be fine and could give Houston a good chance of victory in their starts, if both get one.
However, the Astros’ pitching corps are deep, and they have two additional weapons at Dusty Baker’s disposal.
Jake Odorizzi pitched 104.2 innings with a 4.21 ERA in the regular season and is a good, experienced option to keep in mind as a potential McCullers replacement.
He allowed four runs in four innings in the Championship Series against the Red Sox.
But perhaps the Astros’ best option is right-hander Cristian Javier.
The Secret Weapon
Javier started the year in the rotation because of Valdez’s injury, and pitched very well.
Then, he moved to the bullpen, but kept his good form and finished the regular season with a 3.55 ERA in 101.1 frames.
His strikeout power increased, as he fanned 130 hitters in those 101.1 innings.
Additionally, Javier was a long man during the ALCS, and he did a very good job, covering five innings in two games.
In those five episodes, he fanned seven foes and didn’t allow a single run.
Houston could go Valdez-Garcia-Greinke in Games 1 through 3 (with Urquidy potentially replacing Greinke) and then go to a bullpen game in the fourth.
If that’s the case, Baker could open the game with a strong reliever and then hand the ball to Javier for two or three frames.
He could also be the “bulk” reliever after a traditional “opener”, covering five or six innings.
Another option would be pairing Odorizzi with Javier in a “piggyback” start.
Valdez, Garcia, Urquidy, Greinke, Christian Javier and Odorizzi are all starting pitchers capable of getting the job done. But losing McCullers is still a huge loss!
— Cesar (@Cesarspr) October 25, 2021
McCullers will certainly be missed, but Houston has arms to try and win the series without him.