The Houston Astros have struggled to find pitching this season, but they may have reinforcements in time for the postseason.
The Houston Astros starting rotation this season has been a shadow of what it once was. Justin Verlander has been out for most of the season. Jose Urquidy has made just two starts, and Lance McCullers Jr. had eight mediocre outings prior to landing on the Injured List. For the most part, the rotation has been Zack Greinke and a cast of question marks.
However, the Astros should have some reinforcements soon. According to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, both McCullers and Verlander are expected back before the end of the season.
McCullers is set to return first, as he is expected back on Wednesday. He has had a rocky season as he has returned from Tommy John surgery, posting a 5.79 ERA and a 1.420 WHiP in his 37.1 innings, striking out 32 batters with 16 walks. While he is clearly not the pitcher he had been, McCullers may still be better than the Astros other options.
Verlander, meanwhile, made just one start this season before landing on the Injured List himself. He was his usually solid self, allowing just two runs on three hits and a walk over six innings, striking out seven batters. If he can return to form, Verlander and Greinke are a formidable duo atop the Astros rotation.
However, it is fair to wonder how long Verlander will be able to last once he returns. According to McTaggart, he threw 55 to 60 pitches on Saturday. With approximately two weeks until the playoffs begin, Verlander may be able to get to 75 or so pitches. That could be enough for five to six innings.
Even 70% of Verlander is better than what the Astros have. He may not be the pitcher he has been in the past, nor capable of lasting deep into the game, but he would be an immediate upgrade to the rotation.
The Houston Astros should be getting some pieces back soon. If Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. can be the pitchers they have been, then the Astros may be able to hold on to that sixth seed in the American League.