Astros formidable, but great rotations can still fall short
Yes, the Houston Astros can still be beat, even after assembling baseball’s newest super rotation.
The Astros acquired six-time All-Star Zack Greinke from Arizona just before Wednesday’s trade deadline, adding him to a pitching staff that already included Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Then, as if to show off, Houston threw a combined no-hitter Saturday night against Seattle — with Aaron Sanchez, another new acquisition, tossing six innings.
Still, recent history tells us that in baseball’s fickle postseason, even a trio of aces often isn’t enough. Here’s a look at some of the best rotations of the wild-card era — and how those teams ultimately fared.
Atlanta Braves (1995-99): The Atlanta trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz actually joined forces before the wild-card era and stayed together into the new century, but the peak was probably the mid-to-late 1990s, when the Braves won three pennants and a World series in a five-year span. Maddux won the Cy Young Award in 1995, Smoltz in 1996 and Glavine in 1998.
Oakland Athletics (2001-03): The A’s won 301 games in a three-year span behind Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, but they never won a playoff series with that group.
Chicago Cubs (2003): The Cubs appeared set for a lengthy run of success when they entered the postseason with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano — all age 26 or younger. But their pennant drive fell apart at Wrigley Field at the end of the NL Championship Series, and Prior and Wood couldn’t stay healthy after that.
Houston Astros (2005): Houston’s first World Series appearance came in 2005, at the tail end of an impressive nine-year stretch for the franchise. The Astros had Roger Clemens (1.87 ERA), Andy Pettitte (2.39) and Roy Oswalt in that pennant-winning season.
Philadelphia Phillies (2011): Philadelphia’s incredible rotation largely lived up to expectations as the Phillies rolled to a 102-win season. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all finished in the top five of the National League Cy Young vote, and Philadelphia also had Oswalt and Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA) contributing. A Division Series loss to the Cardinals proved again that adage about how anything can happen in a short series.
Detroit Tigers (2014): After the Tigers acquired David Price at the deadline, they had the previous three American League Cy Young winners in the same rotation — Max Scherzer, Price and Verlander. They also had a future Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello and the previous year’s ERA champ in Anibal Sanchez. Still, Detroit barely won the AL Central and was swept in the Division Series by Baltimore.
Washington Nationals (2017): According to Baseball-Reference.com, only two teams in the past 90 years have had three pitchers accumulate at least 6.0 WAR: The 2011 Phillies and these Nationals. Scherzer won the Cy Young Award, with Stephen Strasburg finishing third and Gio Gonzalez sixth. Washington still couldn’t win a playoff series.
Elsewhere around the majors:
ON THE ROPES
While Houston was adding a star pitcher, the Yankees and Red Sox were conspicuously quiet at the deadline. New York has pitching concerns but leads the AL East by 7 1/2 games. Boston, on the other hand, has dropped eight straight after a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox trail by 14 1/2 games in the division and by 6 1/2 in the wild-card race. The defending champs are now in serious danger of missing the postseason.
Things definitely got weird in Philadelphia on Friday night when the White Sox beat the Phillies 4-3 in 15 innings. Philadelphia pitcher Vince Velasquez was put in left field and threw a runner out at the plate in the 14th. He also made a diving catch in the 15th.
Outfielder Roman Quinn, who homered and stole two bases in the game, ended up pitching the last two innings and took the loss.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Quinn’s bizarre night would have been a fun choice for this spot, and Houston certainly had the best team line in its no-hitter — but the top individual performance goes to Nelson Cruz, who homered three times in Minnesota’s 11-3 win over Kansas City on Saturday night. It was his second three-homer game in 10 days.