Astros pitching options for Game 7 winner-take-all

Hometown hero Mattress Mack surprised a group of Astros fans with tickets to Game 6 on Tuesday.

LOS ANGELES (CBS) -- It sounds like a simple task when you say that Astros manager A.J. Hinch needs to wring nine innings from his pitching staff -- nine innings in which they allow fewer runs than the Houston offense scores. How Hinch and charges achieve that, those damnable specifics, are much more complicated. 

The only thing we know for certain is that Lance McCullers will start for the Astros, which Hinch confirmed in the post-Game 6 presser. We also have a recent roadmap as to how Hinch has handled McCullers in his last two outings. Consider ... 

  • In Game 7 of the ALCS, McCullers relieved starter Charlie Morton and worked four scoreless innings against the Yankees.
  • In Game 3 of the World Series against these same Dodgers, McCullers started but struggled with his command en route to allowing three runs in 5 1/3 innings. Brad Peacock relieved and worked 3 2/3 hitless innings to close out the Houston win. 

So the last two times that Hinch has pitched McCullers, he's in essence been part of a "piggyback" arrangement in which one starter has given way to another starter pitching in relief after getting through the order for the second time or just dipping his toes into the batting order for a third time. On Wednesday night, it would be most surprising if McCullers faces more than 18 batters. As you have no doubt heard to the point of nodding off to sleep, starting pitchers tend to see significant decline when facing an opposing lineup for the third time in the same game. With aces like, say, Justin Verlander managers tend to not worry about that too much, even in the postseason environment. With guys like McCullers, who may one day be an ace but isn't yet of that status, much less rope is given (see also: Dave Roberts and Rich Hill).

So even if McCullers is cruising, Hinch will likely make a preemptive move to the bullpen. If he piggybacks -- and given the recent ineffectiveness of his standard relievers, that seems likely -- then Peacock seems like the choice. Speaking of Peacock, he threw 39 pitches in Game 5, so he'll come into Game 7 on two-days' rest. His relief gem in Game 3 came on two-days' rest, albeit coming off just 11 pitches. So he's certainly an option for Hinch. 

Also on two-days' rest will be Dallas Keuchel, who started and threw 86 pitches in Game. You probably can't get much from Keuchel in this game, but he could be called upon to face one of the potent Dodger lefty bats like Corey SeagerCody BellingerJoc Pederson and then go a bit further. 

MORE: Read the full story at CBSSports.com

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