Gerrit Cole and George Springer are gone, and Justin Verlander is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Even with those factors working against them, the Houston Astros took the Tampa Bay Rays to seven games in the American League Championship Series last season and are off to a 6-3 start to the 2021 MLB season. How is this possible? They have a budding, young starting rotation.

Houston’s prolific infield (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel) is a primary catalyst for their steady play. That said, their offense has to be accompanied by a sturdy rotation to contend for the AL. They’re surrounded by a unit that’s precisely that and has the potential to be great.

Zack Greinke has quickly become the old reliable of this rotation, and rightfully so. By his side is a grouping of compelling young arms in Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and, when healthy, Framber Valdez.

McCullers looks to be fully recovered from his 2018 Tommy John surgery, performing like the vibrant right-hander pre-surgery. Across his last 13 regular season starts,, McCullers owns a 3.60 ERA, a 3.74 FIP and 69 strikeouts.

Javier has picked up where he left off last season, getting out of trouble and keeping the Astros in games. The 24-year-old gets through damage by trusting his fastball and has been an integral part of manager Dusty Baker’s rotation. Last season he posted a 3.48 ERA and an 0.99 WHIP across 12 appearances, 10 of which were starts.