Over a decade later, a December 2010 trade with Milwaukee still ranks as one of the best in Kansas City history. The KC Royals, 25 years removed from their last postseason appearance and still over three seasons away from their next, sent staff ace Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
Today, two hurlers on opposite ends of that deal—Greinke and Odorizzi—face key roles as their Houston Astros prepare to take on Boston tonight in the opening game of the American League Championship Series.
Houston is counting on the pair to fill, or help fill, the gaping hole Lance McCullers Jr.’s absence has created in the club’s starting rotation. The right forearm tightness that forced McCullers out of Houston’s Division Series finale Tuesday prevented him from making the team’s ALCS roster.
Odorizzi takes McCullers’ spot; Greinke, a lock to make the roster anyway, could move into the rotation from the bullpen role he filled in the ALDS.
But will the ex-Royals be enough to offset McCullers’ sudden absence?
Replacing McCullers will be a daunting task for the two former KC Royals.
Filling McCullers’ shoes won’t be easy. He went 13-4 with a 3.16 ERA and averaged almost six inning per start in his sixth season with the Astros, then shut out Chicago for 6.2 innings to win the first game of the ALDS. And he was cruising with a 5-1 lead through four innings in the deciding fourth game before leaving with forearm tightness.
Greinke, of course, would under normal circumstances be the most likely of the two ex-Royals to step into McCullers’ rotation spot. He’s been a key component of Houston’s rotation for three years and went 11-6 this season. But a neck issue forced him to the Injured List in September and he didn’t return until Game 3 of the ALDS when he pitched a scoreless inning against the White Sox.
Now an 18-year major league veteran who was 60-67 in seven seasons and won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with the KC Royals, Greinke’s 219 career wins make him a Hall of Fame candidate. He’ll be a free agent when the World Series ends.
Odorizzi also spent time on the IL last month (foot) and started twice after his Sept. 26 reactivation. He also missed time early in the campaign with a right pronator problem and finished the regular season 6-7 with a 4.21 ERA. Odorizzi is 68-63, 3.95 in 10 big league seasons.
Odorizzi pitched well for two seasons in the Kansas City farm system, going 25-12 in 53 games across A, Double-A, and Triple-A, before making it to the KC Royals in 2012 and pitching twice. The club traded him to Tampa after that season as part of the seven-player deal that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kauffman Stadium.
Of the two Royal alums, Greinke has more postseason experience—he’s pitched 20 times in the playoffs (but only twice in the World Series, when he started two games for Houston in 2019 and didn’t earn a decision). Odorizzi, on the other hand, lost to the Yankees in his only postseason game, a 2019 ALDS appearance for Minnesota.
Beyond Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, Houston manager Dusty Baker’s pitching plans are unclear. But including Greinke and Odorizzi on the Astros’ roster give him a couple of decent options.
Will former KC Royals Zack Greinke and Jake Odorizzi make up for Houston’s loss of Lance McCullers Jr.? We shall see. The ALCS gets underway tonight when their Astros host the Red Sox.