Between the loss of Lance McCullers Jr. (forearm) for the American League Championship Series and the ineffectiveness of both Luis García and Framber Valdez, the Houston Astros’ rotation is kind of a mess entering Game 3 of the ALCS at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night.
García and Valdez struggled in Games 1 and 2 of the series vs Boston. With Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) out and Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke (both moved to the bullpen) not reliable starting options, so Houston mananger Dusty Baker has had to dig deep.
The Astros survived a 2.2-inning start from Valdez in Game 1 to win a nail-biter and take an early series lead, but couldn’t do the same when García gave up a first-inning grand slam to J.D. Martinez in Game 2 and later left with right knee discomfort. The Red Sox became the first team in playoff history to hit two grand slams in the same game when Rafael Devers hit his own in the second inning off Odorizzi to give Boston more than enough run support for an easy win.
Now, the series is tied at one game apiece as it shifts to Fenway Park. José Urquidy, who hasn’t pitched at all in the postseason, gets the crucial start for the Astros as he looks to build on his best regular season in the majors as well as success in each of Houston’s last two playoff runs. He’ll go up against Boston’s Eduardo Rodríguez, who wasn’t particularly good during the regular season but is coming off a strong Game 4 start against the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series.
First pitch of Game 3 from Fenway Park on Monday is at 8:08 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Red Sox as -110 moneyline favorites while the Astros are even-money underdogs. MLB playoff odds have the over/under at nine runs.
Urquidy Solid When Called Upon
Of course, it’s not ideal that Urquidy hasn’t pitched since Oct. 3. However, the Astros’ pitching staff has been so beleaguered with injuries and ineffectiveness that it might be a good thing that the right-hander is pitching on plenty of rest and, by all accounts, is fully healthy.
Urquidy had a 3.62 ERA in 107 innings in 2021, more than he had pitched in the majors in 2019 and 2020 combined. He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher — only around 7.6 punchouts per nine innings — but he doesn’t walk many batters and held opponents to a .218 batting average. Home runs are a concern with Urquidy, though, as he gave up 17 long balls in his 107 innings. That’s something to consider at Fenway.
But, overall, Urquidy is a pretty reliable arm who likely would only be asked for four or five solid innings considering that the Astros’ bullpen will be pretty well-rested. Considering how Houston’s other starts — at least those not made by McCullers — have gone this postseason, Urquidy pitching into the fifth or sixth inning would be enormous.
So, you should back the Astros as surprising underdogs if you’re betting online. They are on the road and while they haven’t played particularly well in the ALCS, they have all their bullpen options and are still a better offensive team than the Red Sox. That value is very enticing.
Astros Crush Rodríguez, Lefties
Regular-season opponent-by-opponent sample sizes can be misleading, especially when the sample size is only two games, but the Astros hit Rodríguez very hard twice this season. In each of those two starts — which were 10 days apart in late May and early June — Houston knocked Rodríguez out after he gave up six runs in 4.2 innings.
Granted, those games were months ago but the sentiment remains: The Astros are great against any pitcher, especially lefties. Houston had a .788 team OPS against southpaws this season and has done very well against lefty starters this postseason, from Carlos Rodón to Chris Sale. Look for that trend to continue.
The MLB lines are interestingly favoring the Red Sox, which opens up the chance to take a 95-win Astros team straight-up as underdogs. That’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often so it’s one you should jump all over.
Whitlock May Be Limited
The Red Sox, somewhat improbably, have made it to the brink of a pennant without having more than two or three relievers in which they have complete faith. Garrett Whitlock, the Rule V draftee from the New York Yankees in the offseason, is at the top of that list for manager Alex Cora.
While it’s great to have someone with Whitlock’s stuff that can go multiple innings at any given time, Boston relies on him a lot, to the point that it’s clear maybe only Ryan Brasier and Tanner Houck are on the same tier of reliever in Cora’s mind.
Whitlock, however, threw 33 pitches in two sharp innings in Game 2 on Saturday, meaning he is working on just one day of rest (should he pitch on Monday night) after a pretty hefty outing for him. During the regular season, Whitlock was rarely asked to pitch on one day of rest after throwing 30-plus+ pitches in a game so it remains to be seen if Cora asks that of him in Game 3. It might not be smart to push him past his limits and potentially hamstring Whitlock’s usage for the rest of the series.