The Houston Astros have once again emerged as the team to beat out of the American League this season. Despite seeing talented players such as George Springer and Carlos Correa find new homes recently, the Astros haven’t missed a beat. Barring a complete collapse over the next few games, Houston will roll into the playoffs as the top seed in the AL.
The Astros ability to replace top tier talent without blinking has helped them continue their run of success. Their lineup remains as dangerous as ever, and their pitching staff doesn’t really have any weaknesses. It’s tough to see Houston losing a series throughout the postseason given how deep their playoff roster figures to be.
The lack of clear holes on their roster makes it a bit difficult to pick out a true X-factor for the Astros. And while that may be true, it’s clear that they are going to need this starting pitcher, who has put together an extremely impressive campaign, to continue to excel in the playoffs if they intend on winning it all this season. Let’s identify who this player is and see why he is so important to Houston’s upcoming playoff run.
Astros X-factor for 2022 MLB playoffs: Framber Valdez
The Astros pitching staff, after being a weakness during their run to the World Series last season, has been phenomenal this season. And the guy who has spearheaded their turnaround is Framber Valdez. After struggling to find consistency early in his career, Valdez has been the model of consistency leading Houston’s rotation all season long.
Heading into the season, the Astros had to figure out who their number two starter behind Justin Verlander was going to be. Valdez had the inside track, but he was horrible for the ‘Stros in the playoffs last season. Between him, Cristian Javier, and Luis Garcia, there didn’t seem to be a real standout candidate behind Verlander.
Valdez has put those worries to rest this season. His statline on the season (16-5, 2.69 ERA, 182 K, 1.14 WHIP) is easily the best of his career, and he’s already pitched nearly 60 more innings than he did last season. Valdez also had a streak of 25 straight quality starts for Houston throughout this season, ensuring his team would have a shot at winning no matter what their lineup did.
When Verlander had to miss some time due to a trip on the injured list, Valdez picked up the slack and took over the top spot in the rotation. He didn’t flinch with that added responsibility, and that played a huge role in the Astros making a run to overtake the New York Yankees for the top spot in the American League during the second half of the season.
Valdez has been great this season, and it’s clear that he is going to have to continue to pitch well into the postseason. Verlander is going to lead the way, but Valdez is going to have to be right there with him as the second starter. If he can perform like he has during the regular season, Houston will be in great shape.
The problem is that, as mentioned earlier, Valdez struggled mightily in the postseason for Houston last year. Despite the Astros somehow winning four of his five starts, he had a 7.78 ERA, and only lasted past the fifth inning in just one start. Houston’s starting rotation struggled at times during the playoffs, especially given that Verlander wasn’t healthy, and Valdez was the primary culprit.
Will Valdez be able to handle the pressures of the postseason this time around? He will have a lot more support considering Verlander will be the main guy, and the three guys behind him (Javier, Garcia, and Jose Urquidy) have been very solid themselves this year. Simply put, the pressure that existed for Valdez last season doesn’t necessarily exist this time around.
Despite that, Valdez will be counted on to deliver when he takes the mound. Considering he will likely be Houston’s starter, he will have the ability to determine whether his team can control a series. If Verlander can get a win in his start, Valdez could immediately give the Astros a 2-0 lead in the blink of an eye, and given how good they have been this season, it may be impossible to overcome a 2-0 hole against Houston this season.
Valdez simply needs to continue doing what he’s been doing all season long. But his struggles from last season show that he may not be able to be counted on to pitch like he has all season long in the playoffs. If he can, Houston will be very tough to beat. But if he can’t, the team that seemingly had no holes will quickly see one pop up at the worst possible time.