Even through an abysmal season for the Astros, starting pitching has been considered the biggest strength for this team rocking a .239 batting average, next to lowest in the National League. Lucas Harrell has been Houston's most consistent starter. His ERA is 3.97 and he's given up two runs or fewer in eight of his last nine starts.
Before Wandy Rodriguez was traded to the Pirates, Wandy hadn't been the same since April. Harrell, at least for this season, emerged as the star between Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Jordan Lyles, Dallas Keuchel and Armando Galarraga.
Harrell deserves credit for his consistency, but anyone who follows the Astros knows their problems have more to do with what happens toward the end of the games rather than the beginning. It's Houston's back end pitching, late-game mental errors, and inability to score runs that cause the most concern when considering the glaring issues at hand.
That's why the Astros starting pitchers get away with having the second highest ERA in the NL. They give up quite a few home runs, hits, and have a shaky batting lineup to rely on night in and night out. It's a hard life out here in these streets. So why pile on?
When Harrell takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Tuesday for the first time as a starter, I don't want to overstate his significance, or the quality of his work. In fact, he has a low percentage of quality starts this season (39%). I was surprised to see that line because everyone's been raving about how good Harrell's been this season.
Truth is, Harrell doesn't go six-plus innings and give up three runs or fewer very often. Obviously not as often as guys like Johnny Cueto, Wade Miley, or Jordan Zimmermann (with an outstanding 20 quality starts out of 23). But even Norris and Keuchel have higher percentages in quality starts than Harrell.
I'm saying all of this because if Harrell is the leading man, he needs to produce more quality. You could even call it a vanity project if you want to. There's no denying Harrell's significance to the team. He gives them the best chance to win out any guy they have right now.
But this comparable to teenage years when you scope out a party, mall or movie theater with your homies and everyone's pulling phone numbers. Harrell is the guy who gets a lot of numbers, but not from a lot of cute girls. Vanity project. If he's going to be the leading man, he needs to be pulling more dimes.
In other words, please Brad Mills, keep this guy in the game for six innings or more, because he's the man right now.
Harrell can get at a quality start against the Cubs, which would be his second this month. Houston may or may not win on Tuesday, but between these two teams, that doesn't really matter much. A quality start, even it's against the Cubs, would be good for Harrell as the leading man of this pitching rotation.
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