The Astros clinched an ALCS spot with their Game 4 win over the Red Sox on Monday, so they've spent the last two days catching their breath and waiting to see who they'll play in the next round. And when that next round begins this Friday, Houston will have Dallas Keuchel on the mound. Manager A.J. Hinch announced Wednesday that Keuchel will start Game 1 of the ALCS and Justin Verlander will start Game 2.
Keuchel was lined up to start Game 5 of the ALDS had the Red Sox won Game 4, so it's no surprise he's getting the ball in Game 1 of the ALCS. Verlander, as you surely remember,. Since Game 2 of the ALCS is Saturday, Verlander will be on normal rest following the relief appearance.
Who starts Games 3 and 4? That's where it gets interesting. When Hinch spoke to the media Wednesday, he indicated the club had not yet determined their Games 3 and 4 starters. From MLB.com's Brian McTaggart:
"Keuchel and Verlander are going to go one and two in that order," Hinch said. "I don't really care who we're facing, it's going to be that order. Then after that is where it gets a little thought-provoking, I guess."
Brad Peacock started Game 3 of the ALDS while Charlie Morton got the ball in Game 4, and neither pitched all that well. Peacock allowed three runs in 2 2/3 innings while Morton allowed two runs -- and many hard-hit balls -- in 4 1/3 innings.
If the Astros decide to go in another direction, they could add Mike Fiers to the ALCS roster or give Lance McCullers Jr. a start. McCullers allowed two runs in three innings of relief in Game 3 of the ALDS, though he missed much of the second half with a back injury, and pitched to an 8.53 ERA in his final seven starts and 31 2/3 innings of the regular season.
Another option could be starting Keuchel on short rest in Game 4. He is well-equipped to pitch on short rest as a finesse sinkerballer, at least in theory. In fact, Keuchel started the 2015 AL Wild Card Game on short rest and dominated, so he has done it before. The Astros could use Peacock or Morton in Game 3 -- or piggyback them? -- and Keuchel on short rest in Game 4.
The downside to that plan is that either Verlander would have to start Game 5 on short rest, or the Astros would have to start either Peacock or Morton (whoever doesn't start Game 3) in Game 5 anyway. Either way, Keuchel and Verlander are starting Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. What happens after that is still unclear.