The Astros are two wins away from wrapping up an AL West title that would lock in a Division Series matchup with the White Sox. That series could see one of Houston’s most prominent hurlers working in a relief capacity.
Zack Greinke landed on the 10-day injured list last week because of neck soreness, his second trip to the IL this month. He’s expected to conclude his regular season with a rehab start on Thursday for Triple-A Sugar Land, manager Dusty Baker told reporters (including Jake Kaplan of the Athletic). Asked about Greinke’s potential postseason role, Baker said using him in relief is “a very distinct possibility.”
Using Greinke in shorter stints would primarily be motivated by workload concerns. The veteran righty has made just two big league starts this month, topping out at 75 pitches on September 14 against the Rangers. With the postseason kicking off next week, there’s some concern Greinke might not be able to ramp back up to work 100+ pitches in a traditional start.
Even independent of injury limitations, it’s debatable whether his performance merits a spot in the Astros’ top three or four starters this fall. Greinke’s 4.11 ERA ranks fifth among Houston’s six starters (minimum 50+ innings), and his peripherals land in a similar position. His 17% strikeout rate is the lowest on staff, while his 11.8 percentage point strikeout/walk rate differential ranks fifth on the team. Greinke ranks fifth on the club in SIERA (4.58) and last in swinging strike rate (9.1%).
Quite obviously, Greinke’s no longer the ace he was at his peak. The former Cy Young award winner’s 2021 season has been average or slightly worse by most metrics. He still has fantastic command, but Greinke’s stuff has dipped to the point where he’s best suited in the middle or back of a rotation.
But Greinke’s potential exclusion from a postseason rotation is also a testament to the strength of the Astros’ other options. Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. have each ridden huge ground-ball rates to an ERA below 3.25. Luis García should garner some Rookie of the Year support after tossing 144 1/3 innings of 3.30 ERA ball with better than average strikeout and walk rates. José Urquidy doesn’t post big strikeout totals, but he’s a control artist who stays off barrels and perennially outperforms his peripherals. And while Jake Odorizzi hasn’t been fantastic, he’s posted similar numbers as Greinke has, giving Baker and the front office plenty of starting options to choose from come October.
Baker also provided an update on Michael Brantley (via Mark Berman of Fox 26). The left fielder could be reinstated from his own IL stint “in the next couple days,” suggesting he should be ready to go for the postseason. One of the game’s most consistently productive hitters, Brantley has a characteristically strong .315/.367/.441 line (126 wRC+) in 493 plate appearances.