The Astros’ bullpen was set on Thursday for their ALDS matchup with the Indians. Does Houston hold the edge over Cleveland?
Two postseasons ago, the Indians had one of the best bullpens in the game. Led by Andrew Miller, Cleveland rode a superb pitching along with timely hitting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs.
Only one year ago, the Astros somehow managed to win the 2017 World Series despite a bullpen that faltered down the stretch. Houston’s best relief performances were primarily from converted starters like Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers, and Charlie Morton.
Fast forward to the 2018 ALDS, and the bullpen will once again have a key role in the postseason. First, the Astros’ bullpen.
RHP Roberto Osuna (38 IP, 2.37 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 0.8 bWAR)
RHP Ryan Pressly (71 IP, 2.54 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 1.4 bWAR)
RHP Will Harris (56 2/3 IP, 3.49 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 0.7 bWAR)
RHP Lance McCullers (128 1/3 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.5 bWAR)
LHP Tony Sipp (38 2/3 IP, 1.86 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 1.3 bWAR)
RHP Collin McHugh (72 1/3 IP, 1.99 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 2.0 bWAR)
RHP Josh James (23 IP, 2.35 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 0.7 bWAR)
RHP Cody Allen (67 IP, 4.70 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.0 bWAR)
LHP Brad Hand (72 IP, 2.75 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 0.9 bWAR)
LHP Andrew Miller (34 IP, 4.24 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 0.2 bWAR)
RHP Adam Cimber (68 1/3 IP, 3.42 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 0.7 bWAR)
RHP Dan Otero (58 2/3 IP, 5.22 ERA, 4.76 FIP, -0.3 bWAR)
LHP Oliver Perez (32 1/3 IP, 1.39 ERA, 1.74 FIP, 1.3 bWAR)
On paper, the Astros’ bullpen holds the edge. While I am not discounting the circumstances and controversy behind his acquisition from Toronto, Osuna has pitched relatively well in an Astros uniform. Pressly (0.77 ERA, 1.49 FIP) has been a revelation in the Houston bullpen since general manager Jeff Luhnow acquired him from Minnesota in July. Harris has had some rough appearances at various times, but he has been a consistent force nearly all season long. McCullers proved last year that he has a dynamic arm in a postseason bullpen.
As the lone lefty in the bullpen, Sipp has rebounded in the last season of three-year, $18 million contract he signed before the 2016 season. Like McCullers, McHugh is another starter now in the bullpen. While he has had a few rough appearances in the second half, his consistency all season long shouldn’t be discounted. Lastly, James started the season in Double-A Corpus Christi and now finds himself in a postseason bullpen. Quite the story, am I right? By the way, his fastball can reach the upper nineties.
Overall, the Astros’ bullpen has been one of the units in baseball in 2018. A 3.03 ERA and 3.14 FIP over 499 2/3 innings is quite impressive. Not only did they post a 29.1% strikeout rate, which was the second-highest in baseball, Houston’s bullpen had the majors lowest walk rate at 6.8%. While notable relievers like Chris Devenski, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith, and Brad Peacock were left off the ALDS roster, it is reassuring to know that there are capable reserves waiting in the wings in case they are needed.
As Jordan Bastian of MLB.com notes, the Indians could use either one of their starters, Trevor Bauer or Shane Bieber, as a reliever during the series. Depending on the flow of Game 1 and Game 2, Cleveland can combat Houston’s lineup with a variety of arms. Despite Cleveland’s bullpen struggling earlier in the season, the mid-season acquisitions of Hand and Cimber from the Padres helped stabilized the group. In the second half of the season, the Indians have posted a 3.75 ERA and 4.12 FIP, which was much better than their first half marks of 5.28 and 4.87.
The Tribe’s strength in the bullpen could be the matchup possibility. Unlike Houston, Cleveland has multiple left-handed relievers. On the plus side though, the Astros have a predominantly right-handed lineup, which should help negate this advantage. The fact that Cleveland also plans to use a starter as a reliever does add a bit of uncertainty to the equation not only in relief but the starting rotation as well.
As Game 1 is only a short time away, the Astros should feel confident with their bullpen. Contrary to some complaints earlier in the season, the relief corps has been a real asset to the team. Let’s see if the sailing is much smoother this year for the club’s relievers.