The Pallilog

Astros bullpen is only real area of concern

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


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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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