MAKING A PITCH

John Granato: Controversy aside, here is a look at how the Astros bullpen will shape up

Colin McHugh is one of the sure things in the pen. Collin McHugh/Facebook

I certainly don’t want to minimize the repercussions of the Roberto Osuna trade . We have had two straight days of non-stop calls on both sides of the issue. It’s the most calls we’ve had on any subject in quite a while. This article will not deal with the moral dilemma of trading for someone facing domestic abuse charges. The bottom line is that love it or hate it Osuna is an Astro. He’s a premier talent and now he’s Houston’s premier talent.

Make no mistake, it’s a heat check for the Astros. They’re finding out how much leeway they have with the fanbase. I’m sure they’re getting plenty of complaints but they’ll still fill the ballpark. I’m a huge fan of the team and not happy about the Osuna trade. I don’t want to root for a guy who’s facing a charge of assault against a woman but I’m not going to stop rooting for the team.

I loved last year’s Astros, maybe my favorite team ever. There was a youthful enthusiasm they brought every night that made sports fun again and unlike our other teams they played their best on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments.

Everyone did except the bullpen. It was an atrocity and despite the numbers this year that have the Astros bullpen as statistically one of baseball’s best, it needed a facelift, especially at the back end. The numbers against the better teams don’t lie.

They had to make a move. Maybe it’s not the move you wanted but it’s a move that had to be made. From a purely baseball standpoint it’s not a home run, it’s a grand slam. To get a 23-year old top-of-the-line closer with years left under your control for your 10th prospect and two guys that you didn’t want anyway is unheard of. If he didn’t have that baggage he wouldn’t have been on the trade market but he does and he’s here now.

Just think, this October you may not have to have your starters finish every big game. You may actually have a closer who can CLOSE and with the addition of Ryan Pressly you may be set up for another September and October run that could end in another parade.

Here’s what we’re looking as we head down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Sure things right now:

Hector Rondon

Collin McHugh

Tony Sipp

Yes that’s right, Tony Sipp. AJ is starting to put him into more high pressure situations and for good reason. He hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 10 outings and just one since May 7. That can be a deceiving stat for a reliever but it’s not for Sipp. He’s pitching well and deserves a shot to pitch when the game is on the line.

Rondon and McHugh are obviously on this list because of their numbers. McHugh should have been an all-star and Rondon has been solid if not great in the closer’s role. He’ll more than likely move into the setup role with Osuna’s arrival and a combination of Pressly, McHugh, Rondon and Osuna in the 7th, 8th and 9th will be formidable against any lineup.

Note: AJ Hinch has often said that he has no such slotted roles in his bullpen but that may have been more because he couldn’t count on anyone to fill those slots. With this new iteration of bullpen you may be seeing more slotted roles going forward.

Unknowns:

Roberto Osuna

Ryan Pressly

While we might not be excited about bringing Osuna into this locker room because of his issue, you have to be excited about his talent. Problem is he hasn’t pitched since May 6. That’s a long time ago. How long will it take for his command to return? Pinpoint accuracy is so important to every pitcher so it may take a while for him to get back to elite closer status.

With Pressly it’ll be important for AJ to get to know him quickly. How often can he use him? Is he comfortable coming in with runners on or does he pitch best starting an inning? What types of hitters does he pitch best against? He’s got a couple months to do it but there will be an adjustment period on both sides.

Where do we fit in?

Brad Peacock

Chris Devenski

Will Harris

Joe Smith

Smith is more than likely out. He hasn’t been here long enough to build up any good will and his performance hasn’t warranted any faith in his ability to perform on the big stage. No offense Joe. It’s a numbers thing.

But he’s not the only one that’ll have to go. In the postseason you’ll have four starters. Either McCullers or Morton will move to the pen depending on who’s hot. That’ll leave just six spots for true relievers. Right now you’d pick Rondon, McHugh, Sipp, Osuna, Pressly and…

Take your choice:

Brad Peacock?

Chris Devenski?

Will Harris?

They all have a special place in AJ’s heart. They all better pick up their game in these last two months if they want to have a place on the mound come October.






 

Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

Rich Schultz / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the Astros took advantage of the current rules allowing teams in September to expand their major-league roster by bringing up some key players from their AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Bringing them up was beneficial for both the Astros and the players, as it gave the team a chance to rest key players down the stretch, fill some holes due to injury, and provide these young prospects a chance to show what level of performance they are capable of producing in the big leagues.

While Houston had a disappointing stretch of games this past week by dropping three-straight to division-rivals Oakland, this month has otherwise been very successful for the Astros. They continue to inch closer to their magic number to clinch the division, as well as staying in step with the Yankees for the best AL and overall record to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. The success in September, in part, has been a result of these young stars being available and ready to contribute when called on.

Toro and Straw have taken advantage of their opportunities

Let's first take a look at some of the guys who are not as high-profile as the other two we'll get to later. Abraham Toro joined the team in late August to fill an infield spot while both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz missed time with injury. His most exciting moment so far was when he delivered the only runs in a tightly contested game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a two-run home run in the top of the ninth which would ultimately be the difference in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander.

While that was one of his most significant offensive highlights, he has also been solid on defense, filling in at third base while Alex Bregman has covered shortstop for a recovering Carlos Correa. While he likely doesn't make the postseason roster, Toro has shown that should the Astros need a third baseman, whether due to injury or possibly in the years to come with players moving on to other clubs, that he could be their guy.

Another contributor this month has been Myles Straw. While I originally had him on the outside looking in with my playoff roster predictions, the frequency at which Houston has used him as a pinch-runner has shown that they consider him an asset for his speed on the basepaths. Straw alone has scored seven of Houston's 90 runs this month, many of which coming after he was put in as a runner late in a game. That's not to say that's his only strength; he's 4-for-9 at the plate this month and has shown strength on defense as well. Considering the bullpen is starting to get healthy, he could very well find himself on the Astros' bench in the playoffs.

Kyle Tucker has finally broken through 


Many, including myself, were highly anticipating Kyle Tucker's call up in 2018. It, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype; as Tucker would end up going 9-for-64 and a .141 average, no home runs, and just 4 RBIs in his 28 games played in the second half of the 2018 season.

This year is an entirely different story, though, as not only did he have another terrific year in AAA to warrant another chance on the major-league roster, he has finally translated his minor-league success to the big leagues. He already has more hits (13) in his thirteen games in September as he did in his 28-game 2018 debut.

Not only has he been able to notch more hits, but he has also recorded his first and second career home runs along with six other RBIs to double his total from last season (eight versus four). Whether it was some bad luck or improved mechanics, the 2019 version of Kyle Tucker is vastly superior to what we saw in 2018.

Yordan Alvarez is simply unreal


While the players mentioned above are all great in their own right, there is still one young player that has stolen the spotlight on Houston's roster. That is Yordan Alvarez. We're running out of superlatives and records for him to exceed. Had Alvarez been with the Astros from the start of the season, we may not only be talking about the best rookie season ever but one of the best overall seasons by a player, period.

Sure, roughly half of Alvarez's dominance this year came against minor-league talent, but he has been just as dominant in the majors since his debut on June 9th. When you combine his overall statistics between the minors and majors this year, you see an incredible .333 average, 48 home runs, and 146 RBIs. For perspective, although he has spent some time away with injury, the absolute best player in the game, Mike Trout, currently sits with a .291 average, 45 home runs, and 104 RBIs.

He has already locked himself in as the sure American League Rookie of the Year, but now the question is: what can he do with a full season in the major leagues? I am looking forward to seeing how he steps up to the big moments he could be put in during the playoffs this year. Can he deliver these same numbers against the absolute best in the game? I think so, but we will have to wait until October to know for sure.

While the Astros certainly have one of the best set of veterans in the game, the last few months have been a chance to see what may be on the horizon for some of Houston's young talent that will likely be contributing towards more success for their team for years to come.

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