All-Star Worthy

Why is no one talking about Collin McHugh?

McHugh is on roll right now. Collin McHugh/Facebook

The big conversation regarding the Astros’ bullpen has been circled around Ken Giles. Let’s put the Giles conversation aside and talk about another member of the Astros’ bullpen. Collin McHugh’s numbers alone can vouch for a spot in the All-Star game. 

His notable pitching isn’t a new thing; McHugh led the team in ERA after his first season with the Astros in 2014. Fast forward to the 2017 postseason, McHugh is on a World Series champions’ roster. McHugh was left off of the roster for the ALDS, but made appearances against the Yankees and in the memorable Game 5 of the World Series. Despite an underwhelming performance, McHugh is proving to be an impressive and reliable part of the bullpen for the 2018 Astros.

McHugh has appeared in 27 games and pitched 40 innings in 2018. AJ Hinch has an obvious trust with the 31-year-old pitcher based on his stable position in the starting rotation last season. However, a relief spot is a different story. Hinch has seen his relief pitcher rack up 52 strikeouts with a 0.90 ERA. This ERA is good enough for second amongst all AL relief pitchers. In fact, the Astros have four of the top 20 AL relief ERAs with Héctor Rondón (1.44), Chris Devenski (1.57), and Brad Peacock (2.25).

McHugh is beginning to appear in more intense situations as he continues to prove himself through the season. He pitched three innings in a tie game against the Texas Rangers on July 4th, giving up one hit and struck out one. McHugh stayed on the mound through the ninth inning, earning the win with the help of Giles’ tenth-inning save. This road win is McHugh’s 15th road appearance in which he’s maintained a 0.71 and struck out 29 over 25.1 IP.

If the numbers aren’t enough to convince you that McHugh deserves an All-Star spot this season, ask Lance McCullers Jr., Joe Musgrove, and a lot of the Astros Twitter fanbase. McCullers Jr. tells his Twitter followers,

“I’M ONLY GOING TO SAY THIS ONCE…. SO LISTEN UP…. IF @Collin_McHugh ISN’T IN THE 2018 ALL-STAR GAME… THEN CANCEL THE GAME… IDC ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE BEST PERFORMERS EARNING THEIR #ASG NOD AND HE DESERVES IT x1000 @MLB @astros #asgworthy.”

Collin McHugh has absolutely proved himself as an All-Star pitcher and is giving AJ Hinch some assurance from the bullpen that has been struggling throughout the season. As long as he can continue performing at this level, Hinch may see him as a trustworthy option in high-leverage situations come playoff time.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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