A pair of DL stints due to back issues limited Lance McCullers to 118.2 regular-season innings (22 starts), but his performance when on the field further hinted at ace upside. He struck out 25.8 percent of the batters he faced, issued walks at a 7.8 percent clip and served up just eight homers, with the estimators suggesting McCullers was roughly a run better than his surface numbers would indicate. McCulllers has relied on his devastating curveball as his primary pitch over the past two seasons, throwing it 47.4 percent of the time in 2017 compared to 40.4 percent for his fastball (11.9 percent changeup). That's the Rich Hill approach, but also like Hill, McCullers is an injury risk, having missed time in 2016 due to elbow and shoulder issues. Expecting even 150 innings may be a stretch, but McCullers' contributions in that limited window may be so great that he still finishes as a borderline top-20 starter. The team context -- home park, bullpen, offense -- couldn't be any better.
McCullers agreed to a one-year deal with Houston on Friday, to avoid arbitration. This was the first year he was arbitration eligible following a triumphant postseason run that saw McCullers star in a pair of Game Sevens. During the 2017 campaign, the right-hander compiled a 4.25 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 132 strikeouts in 118.2 innings. He should should be a borderline top-20 starter heading into this upcoming season.
McCullers will start Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Wednesday, Erik Boland of Newsday Sports reports. With the Dodgers pulling out a 3-1 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday, the series heads to a final matchup Wednesday, where McCullers will get the call to take the mound in a do-or-die situation. In his previous start during Game 3, McCullers pitched 5.1 innings, allowing three runs on four hits, while also tallying four walks and three strikeouts.
McCullers will take the mound for Game 3 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Friday, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. When the series shifts to Houston, McCullers will be the man on the hill for the Astros against Yu Darvish, following his remarkable performances against the Yankees in the ALCS. During his two appearances in that series, McCullers allowed just one earned run while striking out nine over 10 innings of work, most of that coming in a Game 4 start at Yankee Stadium. With Charlie Morton pegged as Saturday's starter, Brad Peacock will likely be the long man in case either Morton, or McCullers, begins to falter in their respective outings.
McCullers will start Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday in New York, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports. He has only made one appearance this postseason -- a three-inning effort in mop-up duty against the Red Sox in the ALDS. Brad Peacock, who was the other option for this start, will be available out of the bullpen, likely piggybacking McCullers' start before the game gets turned over to Houston's top relievers. With that in mind, it is unlikely that McCullers will be asked to face the Yankees' lineup a third time in this outing.
McCullers gave up five runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six in 4.1 innings Saturday in Boston, picking up his fourth loss of the season. He was on pitch count in this one, but likely would have been pulled midway through the fifth inning regardless, given how ineffective he was. Alyson Footer of MLB.com speculated afterward that McCullers may have cost himself a spot on the ALDS roster, but that has not yet been determined. Injuries once again limited McCullers this year, and he finished with a 4.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 118.2 innings.