The Houston Astros chances this postseason may hinge on how much of an impact Justin Verlander is able to make.
As it currently stands, the Houston Astros are second in the American League West. Despite hovering around .500 for most of the year, they are still slotted into the postseason, the sixth seed in the AL.
Yet, the Astros may be one of the more vulnerable teams heading into the playoffs. The pitching staff has been riddled with injuries; their bullpen a collection of rookies and question marks. There are some positives, as Lance McCullers Jr. has returned, but the Astros may still be the team that others want to face.
However, there is one major x-factor. Justin Verlander is on the way back, having thrown 24 pitches over two innings in a simulated game. The hope is that he will be able to return from his strained forearm before the end of the season, potentially getting one more outing before the playoffs begin.
It is also worth noting that the Astros are going to bring Verlander back as a starter. Between his bullpen sessions and simulated games, he has built up to approximately 60 pitches, enough to get through three to four innings. It is possible that, with another week left before the postseason, he could add a few more pitches to that total.
But this also brings into question how much of an impact Verlander can have in the rotation. If he is only lasting four or five innings, that brings the Astros bullpen into the game sooner. Houston ranks 16th with a 4.43 bullpen ERA, a mark that only four other prospective playoff teams are worse than.
Meanwhile, the Astros have found a solid rotation out of their collection of rookies. Zack Greinke is currently the unquestioned ace, while Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez have found success. A healthy Verlander would be an upgrade over any of that trio, but will those four or so innings make that much of a difference?
Instead, using Verlander as a fireman could make that needed impact. He could step in during a pressure situation to protect the lead, or throw a few innings out of the bullpen to protect a somewhat shaky group. In that way, Verlander could make a greater impact.
As it stands, Justin Verlander is expected to return as a starter for the Houston Astros during the postseason. His impact could be limited in that role due to his limitations in pitching deeper into the games.