Charlie Pallilo: Astros bullpen likely to get some help

Ken Giles is perfect in save situations, but do you really trust him? Al Bello/Getty Images

It is not a coincidence that the Astros’ schedule eased up and they’ve stopped losing games. The Seattle Mariners continue to rack up the victories at a shockingly impressive pace, but it will still be a shocker if they’re neck and neck with the Astros in the American League West come late September. There are so many teams the Astros simply overmatch.

The Astros have no real weakness that jeopardizes much. Until the playoffs that is, when the bullpen will rightfully be viewed as shaky. Rightfully viewed as shaky, as presently constituted. But you know….Ken Giles is a perfect 11 for 11 in converting save situations this season! Which just helps prove that the save stat is sometimes ridiculous. A.J. Hinch has generally babied Giles, hardly ever putting him in tough save spots. Giles has one save all season in which he protected a one run lead in the 9th. Mariners closer Edwin Diaz has 15 of them. Part of that is the Mariners playing so many more one run games. But Giles clearly does not (and should not) have the unshaken faith of his skipper.

There is little question Jeff Luhnow will pursue a bullpen arm between now and the end of July. Two names of lefties of note: Zach Britton and Brad Hand. Britton just started his season this week after recovering from an Achilles tendon tear. Britton was the best lefty closer in the game for the three year stretch 2014-2016, his very best in 2016 with 47 saves and a 0.54 ERA. The hopeless Orioles have no reason to not trade Britton who is a free agent after this season. The Astros tried hard to acquire Britton last season but whatever deal was in play fell through.

Hand is the Padres’ closer having his third straight terrific season. Unlike Britton, Hand is signed for two more years at a value price, total guarantee only 14.5 million dollars. That of course is “only” in Major League Baseball money.

If the asking price is too steep on Britton and Hand, Cincinnati closer Raisel Iglesias is righthanded, but really good and also under contract for the next two years at a lower salary than Hand. The Reds have little need for a good closer. They rarely have ninth inning leads to protect.

Justin time

It’s been so sad over the last three-plus weeks watching Justin Verlander slowly crumble before our very eyes. His season ERA has gone up in each of his last five starts. It started at 1.05. Then to 1.08. Then 1.11. Then 1.24. Then 1.45. After giving up three earned runs in Oakland Thursday it’s now all the way up to 1.61!!! What a dominant machine Verlander has been. Now 15 starts into his season he still has not given up more than three earned runs in a game. A.J. Hinch gets to pick the American League starting pitcher for next month’s All Star Game. Unless Verlander starts the Sunday two days before the ASG, as of now Hinch has a very simple decision.

The first voting returns in American League All Star voting were released this week. Jose Altuve is the only Astro on course to be elected a starter. That’s actually how it should be to this point in the season. Altuve is running away with the second base. He’s off a bit from his MVP level of last season he’s still easily the best second baseman in the league.

Carlos Correa was voted the AL starting shortstop last year. He’s fourth in the first returns this year. About where he belongs. Shortstop is stacked in the American League this year. The Orioles’ Manny Machado leads the vote with the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, Angels’ Andrelton Simmons, and Mariners’ Jean Segura at least as good as Correa so far this year.

George Springer is having a heck of a season. But it will be tough for Springer to be voted a starter for a second year in a row. Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Aaron Judge are 1-2-3 in the voting, and all are deserving.

If you’re into online ballot box stuffing, All Star voting ends July 5.

Goal oriented

I won’t much get into the World Cup until the knockout round of 16 gets here but my two favorite teams are Iceland and Belgium.  The U.S. has a population approaching 330 million and pathetically failed to qualify. Iceland has a population of about 350-thousand (less than 10 percent more than Corpus Christi) and made it. As for Belgium, big fan of its waffles.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Benardrick McKinney is a very solid inside linebacker. But five years, 50 mil seems pricey.  2. I love the high scores at the U.S. Open Golf Championship 3. Best ballparks to visit with the Astros this season:  Bronze-Safeco Field (Mariners) Silver-Fenway Park (duh, Red Sox) Gold-AT&T Park (Giants).


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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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