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Who has the AL West's best bullpen?

February 10, 2020

The Astros’ bullpen was one of the club’s strengths all last season, and while it appeared uneven at times during the postseason, the relief corps will once again play a crucial role in 2020.

The Astros’ bullpen was one of the club’s strengths all last season, and while it appeared uneven at times during the postseason, the relief corps will once again play a crucial role in 2020.

The A’s might have the second-best bullpen in the American League West, but there’s no denying which group of relievers is on top in the division.

Once again, it’s the Astros.

Consider this: Houston’s bullpen ranked third in the Majors last year in both ERA (3.75) and batting average against (.226), which led the AL. Yes, the club lost perhaps its best reliever from last year when Will Harris signed with the Nationals. But closer Roberto Osuna and All-Star setup man Ryan Pressly are back and will stabilize the back end of the bullpen.

Pressly was almost unhittable in the first half. He battled a knee injury that required in-season surgery, but he’s healthy again and should regain his elite form. Joe Smith, who missed the first half of last season with an injury, re-signed and is looking to build on his strong second half. Then there’s Josh James, who has been inconsistent at times but is a force when he’s throwing strikes. Add former All-Star Chris Devenski, along with Joe Biagini and a group of young arms that includes prospect Bryan Abreu, and the Houston relievers might be as good as or better than they were in '19.

The Angels have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The club has a dependable closer in Hansel Robles, who posted a 2.48 ERA and picked up 23 saves last year. Then there’s Ty Buttrey and Cam Bedrosian, who are coming off solid seasons and will return as the primary setup men. Matt Andriese, who was acquired in a trade with the D-backs, is also expected to contribute. Noé Ramirez offers some length as a long man, and Keynan Middleton’s premium stuff plays. Others in the mix include Justin Anderson, Mike Mayers, Taylor Cole, Kyle Keller, Luke Bard, José Quijada and Hoby Milner.

Here’s why the A’s like their chances late in games: The bullpen is led by closer Liam Hendriks, a 2019 All-Star who is arguably one of the best relievers in baseball. Don’t forget about Yusmeiro Petit, 35, who led the Majors with 80 appearances and posted a career-best 2.71 ERA last season. Yes, the bullpen led the Majors with 30 blown saves, but that could change if Joakim Soria and Lou Trivino bounce back. The veteran Soria posted a career-worst 4.30 ERA, while Trivino hit a sophomore slump with a 5.25 ERA following a sensational rookie campaign. Chris Bassitt is likely to slot into a multi-inning role out of the bullpen with the rotation already full. Daniel Mengden was another candidate for multi-inning work but had right elbow surgery on Monday. Jake Diekman and newcomer T.J. McFarland are the two left-handers manager Bob Melvin won’t be afraid to use in any situation.

Seattle’s recent roster churn is clearly evident in the bullpen. Dan Altavilla and Brandon Brennan are the only holdovers from the nine relievers on last year’s Opening Day roster, and neither right-hander is assured a spot in this year’s group. General manager Jerry Dipoto signed free agents Yoshihisa Hirano and Carl Edwards Jr. to add some experience to a young group that doesn’t have a proven closer. Right-handers Matt Magill, Sam Tuivailala and Erik Swanson are likely late-inning options along with Hirano and Edwards.

Yohan Ramirez was picked up from the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft, while righties Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, Art Warren and Joey Gerber and lefties Aaron Fletcher and Taylor Guilbeau are all prospects to watch. It’s likely this bullpen will again look a lot different by the second half, when some of the young players mature. Austin Adams, one of last year’s best discoveries, is also expected to return in midseason from right knee surgery.

The Rangers' bullpen added a potentially significant arm last week when right-hander Cody Allen was signed to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He was a premier closer for the Indians from 2014-17 before running into physical and mechanical issues the past two seasons. If he can regain his old form, he could push José Leclerc for the closer’s job. Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez and Nick Goody give the Rangers three veteran right-handed setup relievers, and left-hander Joely Rodríguez is coming off two outstanding seasons in Japan. He and Brett Martin could give the Rangers two tough lefties to balance the bullpen. Converted outfielder James Jones is another lefty to watch.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.