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Houston Astros’ Bullpen Is Looking Awfully Vulnerable

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What in the world is going on with the Houston Astros bullpen?

After a phenomenal start to the season, many people noticed that Jeff Luhnow’s emphasis on bolstering the bullpen during the offseason was paying off. The team with the most blown saves and lowest save percentage in 2014 was now completely different. It was quite a task to send a lineup to face Tony Sipp, Will Harris, Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. They looked pretty darn stout. Not as good as say, Brad LidgeOctavio DotelBilly Wagner , but certainly a big improvement over the rag tag group that filled those roles from 2010-2014.

However, now the 2015 group that looked like a tough matchup is suddenly looking very vulnerable. During the Astros past 10 games, the bullpen has surrendered 25 runs (23 earned) over 24 innings pitched (only three games with 0 earned runs). That’s an ERA of 8.63. That’s not good. And it’s a far cry from what we have come to expect from such a solid group.

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Interestingly, the lack of performance during crunch time has been spread around fairly evenly. There isn’t one guy to point the finger at:

Oliver Perez – 4 ER

Chad Qualls – 4 ER

Pat Neshek – 4R / 2ER

Luke Gregerson – 2 ER

Vincent Velasquez – 4 ER

Josh Fields -7 ER

Clearly, the distribution of suckitude is pretty equally distributed.

So, what the heck is going on? Are the arms tired? Is this just one of the speed bumps that happens every so often during a season? Or are the guys we expect to be the most clutch suddenly grinding the gears during the most important stretch (in other words- they aren’t as clutch as we thought)?

It’s really hard to say. Perhaps it’s a little bit of everything, though Neshek made an uncharacteristic fielding error that was as big as a culprit as his pitching.

On the plus side, over those 10 games, the Astros managed to scrape out four wins. On the negative side, it’s really hard to win when your offense is coming out of its August slumber, only to be negated by shaky pitching at the end of games.

The three games that come to mind most are yesterday’s loss to Oakland, where the Astros tacked on seven runs between the 7th and 8th innings; Sunday’s win over Minnesota where Jed Lowrie’s FORCE-ful grand slam wasn’t enough for the Astros to stay on top; and Saturday’s loss where Gregerson’s stuff was not there and he gave up a tie game (we expect the closer to have ice in his veins).

It’s very frustrating. However, A.J. Hinch doesn’t seem to be too worried:

Clearly this is manager speak. Hinch is not going to call out someone now when that hasn’t been the way he’s operated all season. But it’ll be interesting to see how he uses these guys from here on out.

With a slim two-game lead over the Texas Rangers, the Astros need everyone onboard for this final stretch. These relievers have been solid all season; there’s no reason to believe they can’t get it back in gear. Right?

Next: Fresno Grizzlies Looking Towards Championship

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