The Houston Astros cannot continue with Ryan Pressly as their closer.
In spite of spectacularly blowing their chance to clinch a playoff spot by defeating the Rangers on Friday, the Houston Astros managed to clinch anyway thanks to the Angels losing to the Dodgers. While it certainly feels good to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season, yesterday’s loss necessitates a look at Ryan Pressly‘s future as the team’s closer.
Pressly was brought in to finish off a one-run game and managed to get one strike away from doing so. But then he served up a game-tying home run to Ronald Guzman, and the Astros would go on to lose in the 10th inning. It was one of the most frustrating losses in what has been a rather frustrating season for this team.
With a trip to the postseason now assured, the question remains as to whether manager Dusty Baker should make a change at the back of the bullpen. Pressly has been given the role in the absence of the injured Roberto Osuna thanks to his strong track record and the fact that he’s by far the most experienced pitcher in the team’s relief corps.
He’s been excellent in Houston, allowing only two runs in 23.1 innings down the stretch in 2018 and then pitching to a 2.32 ERA in 55 appearances last year. But 2020 hasn’t gone as well, as he’s pitched to a 3.86 ERA in 23 appearances. He’s blown four saves in 16 opportunities and has also twice taken the loss after entering into a tie game.
But given that the team’s bullpen is full of inexperience and uncertainty, what is Baker to do? Here are a few possibilities that are worth exploring rather than simply trotting Pressly out there and giving everyone heart palpitations.
The team’s best reliever this year has been Blake Taylor, so perhaps run with him. His 2.18 ERA and 1.210 WHIP are solid and are a definite improvement over Pressly’s numbers. Maybe the rookie has what it takes to be the closer, and maybe he doesn’t. But the status quo isn’t working so it’s worth a try.
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While Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb have looked excellent at times and may have bright futures, I don’t believe either of them is ready. Scrubb simply walks too many batters, and Paredes didn’t exactly seize the moment in the 10th inning on Friday. There might be a closer here in the future, but neither of them should be candidates right now.
In the Wild Card round, I would put Cristian Javier’s name into the mix. He won’t be needed in the rotation in a best-of-three series, and his 0.994 WHIP for the season is excellent. The Astros may likely need him to start in the ALDS if they advance, but at least for the first round, why not deploy one of your best arms in the most key situations?
What I think may end up being the best option, though, is to simply operate without a designated closer. Play the matchups and ride the hot hand instead of committing the ninth inning to one guy. Taylor, Scrubb and Brooks Raley have all earned saves this year in addition to Pressly, and there’s no rule (written or unwritten) that says teams must have a designated closer.
That all tends to get thrown out the window in the playoffs anyway, as teams have been more reliant on their best arms regardless of role. This wonky postseason schedule could cause some issues, but the bottom line is the Astros can’t simply keep Pressly as their ninth inning guy. They need to go with the guy who’s most likely to get outs in each particular situation.