POINT BLANK

Joel Blank: Astros need to address bullpen issues right now

Ken Giles has not been good. Al Bello/Getty Images

Everything is magnified after you win a World Series. Little things seem like big problems, and the fanbase has their finger on the panic button with every pitch, any lost lead, and every blown save. For all that premature pessimism and overreaction, there also comes a time when you need to address an ongoing area of concern before it’s too late. For the Houston Astros, it’s the inconsistent and less than stellar bullpen.

We all know by now that it is totally unfair to compare last years’ team with this season’s squad.  Too many variables change—from the roster to the schedule to the talent level and player additions to the opposing teams. So, as hard as it is to compare teams from year to year, it’s inevitable to compare individual performers and their year-to-year production. When you look at the relief pitchers of the Astros last year,  you know and remember it was a tale of two seasons. The regular season consisted of steady, reliable performances by an above average staff with All-Star worthy stars. The postseason was a different story, with slip ups creating a lack of trust and eventually a completely different approach, as starters became relievers and even closers.

I know there are people out there who love analytics and throw out there how the numbers don’t lie and the pen and closer are statistically one of, if not the best in baseball. That's where the eye test comes in as well as the ulcer test. If you don’t feel confident when that phone call is made to the pen and your gut turns out to be right and leads are blown, then it goes deeper than any statistic. Former All-Stars Chris Devenski and Will Harris have been inconsistent at best and Brad Peacock has fallen off from his stellar campaign of a year ago, recently giving up walk off hits in two straight outings. Newcomers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon haven’t gotten off to expected starts and the closer role remains an open audition after Ken Giles lost the job during last year’s playoffs. He’s inconsistent and flammable this year as his only knockout punch has been his haymaker to his own jaw, not his 100 mph fastball.

His ERA is now at 5.21 and that is not good for an average reliever, let alone a contending teams closer. It's getting more obvious by the game that this group is not getting better and the overall problem is not getting fixed. Houston is fourth in the majors in bullpen ERA at 3.02 and are now 4-11 in one run games and 1-4 in extra inning games. To add to that miserable, sinking feeling, they are also hovering around 19th in win probability added, so times are tough and getting tougher by the game. The time is now for Jeff Luhnow and his staff to go out and make a move, if not two, to bolster his bullpen and spark his ballclub while there is still time.

This team is too good, it's starting pitching too dominant, for there to be a weakness of this magnitude. If this was the 100-loss Astros, we wouldn't be having this conversation, but it's not. This is the World Champion Astros we are talking about, who have a legitimate shot to repeat as the best team in baseball. The fanbase has been patient and so have the players, as everyone hoped that the relievers would work their way into form. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened and the time is now to fix the issues before it’s too late.

Jeff Luhnow has been fantastic as he has pushed all the right buttons and made all the right moves to put this team in a position to not only be successful, but to win and win big. This year should be no different as teams are gunning for the champs and trying to make a statement by taking them down. You don't need a last minute Justin Verlander blockbuster to save the day, but you do need a few quality arms to make sure you give your team the best chance to succeed. Even it means tapping into the farm system and emptying a few of your players of the future, the time is now and you only get so many chances to legitimately compete for a crown. The trade deadline isn't until next month, but the sooner the better, so get to work Jeff, and give H-town the added arms and much needed relief the entire city needs.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros play game one of the ALDS on Tuesday. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

It's October. Fall is upon us. In Texas, that means the high temps won't be above 92 or so. Low temps dip into the low 60s. Your air conditioner only runs for about 50-60% of the time it did during Summer. Well, that depends on your thermostat. NFL and NCAA football seasons are in full swing. NBA training camps and preseason have opened. You get the picture I'm painting here. This is a wonderful time to be a sports fan.

MLB is wrapping up its regular season and the Wild Card series in both leagues are already scheduled. Your Houston Astros won't have to play in one of those. Instead, they'll be waiting to see who they play in the next round (Mariners or Blue Jays). As the team with the best record in the AL this season, they hold home field advantage throughout their stay in the AL playoffs. The path to the World Series will go through Houston.

Seeing this team in this position has become very familiar. Since 2015: they've missed the playoffs once (2016), won their division five times, made three World Series appearances, and have the lone ring from 2017. That ring is lonely because it needs a playmate. That playmate has been elusive. It would also validate the dynasty by helping erase some of the stench of the sign stealing scandal. However, I believe the window may be closing.

For starters, Jim Crane and James Click seem to have some relationship issues. Click is operating without a contract beyond this season. Crane has said he'll address Click's situation after the season. Does this mean they're headed for Splitsville? Justin Verlander will be a free agent. Will he re-sign? If so, how much will he command and will it restrict the team from making other moves? Jose Altuve is getting older. So is Yuli Gurriel (Free Agent), Martin Maldonado, Christian Vazquez (Free Agent), Aledmys Diaz (Free Agent), Will Smith (Free Agent), Hector Neris, and Ryan Pressley. All these guys are 32 years old or older. There are young guns in the pipeline at different positions and on the team already, but they aren't all proven commodities.

That is why I believe the time is now. A sense of urgency must be taken with the opportunity to win it all this year. We can't rest on "we'll be back next year" because next year isn't promised. At some point, things will need to be rebuilt and/or replaced. It took 10 years from their World Series appearance in 2005 and their next playoff spot in 2015. That gap could've been a year or so longer because NOBODY expected them to make it in 2015.

Astros fans have become accustomed to this team being in contention for a title every year. What if the pieces that helped get them get to this point are no longer viable? The fantastic voyage won't last forever. All dynasties come to an end at some point. Unless you're a college team that can consistently reload every year. The one thing I want more than anything else is another World Series win. This would silence the haters by validating 2017, seal some Hall of Fame legacies, and potentially signal the lengthening of the window. They're the John Cena of MLB: their fans LOVE them, their haters HATE them. Ultimately, their time is now.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome