The Pallilog

Astros bullpen is only real area of concern

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If the Astros want the best record in Major League Baseball (of course they do), they can't afford to lose many games on days when both the Dodgers and Yankees lose. Thursday night the Dodgers and Yankees lost, and then the Astros lost at Oakland. So heading into the weekend the Astros trail both by two and a half games.

The Astros have a spectacularly constructed ballclub. But like every other big league team ever, they're not perfect. For all the overpowering capability of their offense, when trailing after eight innings this season, the Astros are 0 and 40. Now, all teams lose almost every game when behind after eight, not many lose EVERY game. Overall however, the most important component of that stat is that over their first 122 games played, the Astros have only trailed going to the ninth 40 times.

The bullpen is a real concern these days. No reason to be feeling around for panic buttons, but concern is clearly warranted. Closer Roberto Osuna is nothing special and over the last two plus months has been much less. In the past A.J. Hinch has said bullpen roles are flexible. He hasn't managed that way. Osuna has essentially been the automatic ninth inning save situation guy. He's not that good. Osuna started the season converting his 1st 13 save chances. Since then he's converted 13 more…and blown five others. That, is poor. Two seasons ago Osuna led the Major Leagues in blown saves with 10.

If Ryan Pressly gets fully back on track off of his leg injury he is the Astros best reliever, and in October should be the reliever asked to get the toughest outs late in games. But since starting his season near flawlessly into June, Pressly too has been shakier than desirable.

Among the "others" only Will Harris is having a good season. It's a regular season problem in the race with the Yankees and Dodgers. It's an issue that can be diminished in the postseason. As two years ago when Ken Giles and, really, Chris Devenski became unusable, Hinch may well use Astros' starting pitchers for relief in some key spots.

After this weekend's series at Oakland, the Astros schedule is soft overall the rest of the way. But they can't just throw their bats and gloves on the field and win. See this week's results.

The Yankees meanwhile have been pretty amazing. Their injury load this season has been clearly worse than what the Astros have endured, and that's saying a lot, considering three of the best dozen or so players in the American League (George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve) have all missed chunks of time this season. Yet the Yankees have opened up 2 ½ games of daylight over the Astros. But, the Yanks are now in a 10 game stretch of four vs. the Indians, three at the A's, then three at the Dodgers. The stretch started with the Indians obliterating the Yankees with 19 runs Thursday. It's doubtful the Yankees grow their lead over this stretch, but if they do the Astros will probably have to settle for being the second best team in the American League. Until the playoffs anyway.

With the Detroit Lions in town to practice for two days with and then play the Texans Saturday, it comes to mind that Barry Sanders retired 20 years ago this summer. No running back had a greater and more electrifying NFL career. Jim Brown was greater, but I don't think as electrifying. Walter Payton was greater, but I don't think as electrifying. Bo Jackson was maybe even more electrifying, but his NFL career was a hiccup.

Sanders played 10 NFL seasons. He retired at 31 years old one good season short of topping Payton for the career NFL rushing record that Emmitt Smith would go on to shatter. Over Sanders's decade with Detroit the Lions made the playoffs five times but won exactly one playoff game (destroying the Cowboys 38-6 the season before the Cowboys won the first of their three Lombardi Trophies of the Aikman/Smith/Irvin era). That is the Lions' Super Bowl era Golden Age. They won the 1957 NFL Championship. And have just that one playoff win since. One playoff win in 61 years! And some Texans fans think they have it tough.

I discussed on the show Thursday that if going with a four wide receiver set and the sole criterion is best hands, my all-time foursome is Cris Carter, Larry Fitzgerald, Fred Biletnikoff, and I think DeAndre Hopkins. Highest honorable mention to Steve Largent, and anecdotally, Raymond Berry. Jerry Rice is head and shoulders the greatest wide receiver ever, but for pure pass catching ability he is not supplanting the aforementioned. Biletnikoff was clearly aided by the gobs of now illegal stickum that he used. On the other hand, today's pass catchers benefit from much tackier and more helpful gloves.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Despite four losses in their last five games the Astros are still on pace to win 103. 2. That guy who bangs a drum all game in Oakland should be locked in an elevator for a week with the guy who does it in Cleveland. And two insurance salesmen. 3. Best things about preseason football: Bronze-vacant Silver-surprise guys who earn jobs Gold-the end of it


Houston's magic number is down to 1

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 6-4 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After the mini-sweep of the Rangers concluding with win number 100 on the season which secured a playoff spot, the Astros turned their sights to clinching the division. With their magic number at 2, they could clinch on Friday with a win in the series opener against Los Angeles and an Oakland loss. Here is a recap of the first game of the weekend against the Angels:

Final Score: Astros 6, Angels 4.

Record: 101-53, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zack Greinke (17-5, 3.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jaime Barria (4-10, 6.43 ERA).

1) Starting with a bang

With a chance to clinch their division and continue to lead the battle for playoff home-field advantage, Houston came out swinging on Friday night. In the first inning, the Astros blasted three home runs with solo shots from Jose Altuve which led off the inning, and Alex Bregman as he tries to catch the sidelined Mike Trout for a possible MVP award.

Later in the inning, Carlos Correa took advantage of a runner on base with a home run of his own, a two-run bomb to extend the lead before Josh Reddick tacked on one more with an RBI-single to make it 5-0 after one.

2) Greinke struggles in the fourth but finishes five innings

Zack Greinke allowed just two hits through the first three innings: a single and a solo home run which at the time cut the lead to 5-1. Carlos Correa pushed the lead back to five runs with his second home run of the night in the bottom of the third.

Greinke would struggle in the top of the fourth, however, allowing five straight hits which would score three runs to cut Houston's lead to 6-4. He would recover and toss a 1-2-3 fifth, but that would be it for him in a five-inning start, as Houston passed the ball to their bullpen to throw the last four frames. His final line: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

3) Houston's bullpen dominant the rest of the way

Josh James was the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen to take over for Greinke in the top of the sixth and erased a two-out walk to complete a scoreless inning. Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance in a month after having surgery on his knee, returned dominantly with a 1-2-3 inning.

Will Harris did the same in the top of the eighth, holding the two-run lead going to the ninth. Roberto Osuna had the chance for another save in the top of the ninth and converted it to finish off the 6-4 win. That reduced the magic number to one, meaning the Astros are now a win or Oakland loss away from clinching the American League West. They are also just two wins away from matching last year's franchise number of 103.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set with the Angles will be on Saturday at 6:10 PM. Wade Miley (14-5, 3.71 ERA) will get the start for Houston while Patrick Sandoval (0-3, 4.91 ERA) is expected to be on the mound for Los Angeles.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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