(SportsRadio 610) -- It didn’t result in a win, but Lance McCullers Jr.’s performance in Seattle on Monday night indicates he’s ready to pitch in the postseason.
The Astros still have to do their part to make it there. Losing the Mariners opener squandered an opportunity to cut the number to clinch a postseason spot from three to one.
McCullers pitched well enough to give them a chance. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, when Tim Lopes had a one-out double.
The Astros’ offense could have finally provided run support for McCullers in the top half of that inning, considering Marco Gonzales allowed a rare leadoff walk to Jose Altuve in what was a scoreless game at that point.
But the Astros are not providing a lot of offense these days, and especially for McCullers, whose last two outings have been excellent.
By the time he was pulled in the seventh inning, after things had unraveled with Evan White’s three-run homer, McCullers had pitched 14 consecutive innings without a run of support from his offense.
“I feel like I’ve thrown the ball really well. I think tonight was no exception,” McCullers said after Monday night's 6-1 loss to the Mariners. "I thought I threw the ball excellent. I just didn’t make a pitch … just needed it to be a little bit down, or a little bit further out, and we roll and have a really good chance to win that game.”
It’s a shame. McCullers’ command and velocity are better than it’s been all year, and the one mistake to White doesn’t reflect how well he’s pitching since a short stint on the injured list with neck nerve irritation. On Monday night, his pitch count surpassed 100 for the first time this season.
His previous outing was one of the best pitching performances of his career -- seven scoreless innings with just two hits allowed, no walks and eight strikeouts against the Texas Rangers last Wednesday.
The Astros were shut out 1-0 in that game.
“It’s just a rough patch, you know?” McCullers said when asked how strange it is to pitch this well without run support from what’s historically been a prolific offense. “These guys have been here for me many times when I haven’t been throwing the ball well, or whatever the case is. I wouldn’t pick anybody else over these guys we’ve got.
“We did get quite a few hits today (nine). We’ve just got to start stringing them together a little better, that’s all.”
With the possibility of a Justin Verlander comeback officially off the table, it will be interesting to see how McCullers factors into the Astros’ playoff rotation.
Zack Greinke is probably atop the rotation, and lefty Framber Valdez is sure to factor in as well. The return of Jose Urquidy, who’s also thrown the ball well in his four appearances this season, means the Astros have a decision to make on how to round out the top three, and who better serves them in the beleaguered bullpen.
Baker has said Urquidy could be an option for a postseason start.
Whoever pitches is going to need a lot more from this offense that just last year led the league in OPS (.848), but now sits at No. 20 (.713).