The Astros need to limit bullpen exposure to be successful in playoffs

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The Houston Astros are two wins away from advancing on to the American League Championship Series versus either the Toronto Blue Jays or the Texas Rangers. The Astros could have put themselves in a favorable position with a 2-0 lead returning to Houston, but manager A.J. Hinch made a decision to bring in the bullpen in the sixth inning. Scott Kazmir was not pitching like an ace, but by removing him after allowing a one-out double to Lorenzo Cain in the sixth opened a big can of worms.

The Astros in their first two playoff games kept their starter in the game for six innings, then brought in Tony Sipp, Will Harris, and Luke Gregerson to pitch the final three innings. These three pitchers have been the most reliable pitchers down the stretch and should be the primary option for Hinch to put with the game on the line. The sole purpose of Oliver Perez on this team is to get the left-handers out, if he can’t do that, then he should not be put in important situations.

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The Astros made a bold move by not adding Chad Qualls to the ALDS roster; it was only last year that Qualls was the veteran leader and closer. I think the Astros were debating on whether to carry Qualls or Pat Neshek before the series. I could see them deciding to go with Neshek over Qualls because of his funky delivery. Just my opinion but his delivery means nothing if he is throwing frisbees at the hitters that are very easily hit hard.

In today’s game versus the Kansas City Royals, the Astros better hope that Dallas Keuchel can go at least seven innings. We don’t want the boo birds to come out if Hinch brings out Neshek or Perez in the fifth or sixth innings. By letting the starters go longer, it will limit the exposure of the weak links of the Astros bullpen. This decision could also show that Hinch trusts his pitchers to get out of their own jams. It was obvious by his body movement in the sixth inning of Scott Kazmir’s playoff start that Hinch was uncomfortable. Hinch immediately after the double by Cain, brought in the veteran Perez and he did not have his stuff.

Then Hinch was forced to bring in the youngster Josh Fields, who was getting his first taste of playoff baseball, with one out and the bases loaded. He walked in the game-tying run but settled down to retire the side without allowing any more runs. The Astros have been very careful of easing players into new situations, bringing Fields in with the bases loaded didn’t give him a chance to mess up and then recover. Once you realize that this is the same type of baseball you have played all year, you settle down a pitch better.

Hinch is set in his belief that the bullpen should be used at their designated times, but shouldn’t the best Astros pitcher be brought in at that time? I wouldn’t have minded if the Astros used Gregerson there instead of Fields because the bases were loaded with only one out. That was when the game needed to be saved, but we have to make sure everyone has their set roles in the bullpen.

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I didn’t mean for this to be a Hinch bashing post, how would he know that the veteran Perez couldn’t get an out and that Fields would have butterflies in his stomach? That’s baseball, you are criticised if you leave the starter in or if you take him out, that’s why sports management need a thick skin to not let everything get to them. For the Astros to win this series, they need to score early and have starters pitch well, because the Astros will have trouble stringing hits together off the great Royals bullpen.

The moral of the story, keep the starters in if they are limiting the damage, because, besides the top three relievers, you can’t count on the other guys too much. I believe the Astros will win today and tomorrow, but only if the score early and often. Don’t forget to wear orange to the game.

Next: Three Reasons the Houston Astros are in the Drivers Seat of the ALDS

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