HOUSTON -- The bullpen remains the Astros' biggest question mark entering the 2018 season, which is more of a credit to Houston's deep lineup and rotation than it is an indictment on the relief corps.Still, the Astros' bullpen was shaky and inconsistent at times last year. That's why manager A.J.
HOUSTON -- The bullpen remains the Astros' biggest question mark entering the 2018 season, which is more of a credit to Houston's deep lineup and rotation than it is an indictment on the relief corps.
Still, the Astros' bullpen was shaky and inconsistent at times last year. That's why manager A.J. Hinch resorted to relying on starting pitchers in key spots in the postseason, including Justin Verlander in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, Lance McCullers to close out Game 7 of the AL Championship Series and, most notably, Charlie Morton for the final four innings of Game 7 of the World Series.
• Projected:Lineup | Rotation
Houston signed right-handers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon in December to give it a couple of solid veteran arms to join former All-Stars Will Harris and Chris Devenski and embattled closer Ken Giles, who allowed 10 runs and 12 hits in 7 2/3 innings in the postseason.
MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Astros might stack up:
BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Ken Giles, RHP (closer)
Will Harris, RHP
Chris Devenski, RHP
Joe Smith, RHP
Hector Rondon, RHP
Brad Peacock, RHP
Joe Musgrove, RHP
Tony Sipp, LHP
Musgrove, who began 2017 in the rotation, emerged as a bullpen weapon by posting a 1.44 ERA and a .196 batting average against in 23 relief appearances. Harris remains a model of consistency who has posted three consecutive seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Devenski, who made his first All-Star team last year, remains a dangerous weapon, though he slipped somewhat in the second half. With a terrific changeup that's sometimes unhittable, Devenski can get lefties out at an impressive clip (.111 average) and give Hinch length out of the bullpen as well.
If Peacock isn't in the rotation, his swing-and-miss stuff will be huge for the bullpen, in addition to being able to eat up some innings. The side-arming Smith, 33, split 2017 between the Blue Jays and Indians, posting a 3.33 ERA in 59 games. He struck out 71 batters and walked 10 in 54 innings. Rondon had a bit of a down year in '17 with the Cubs, going 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA in 57 1/3 innings, but he could be a solid bounce-back candidate after recording a career-high 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Giles was really good for much of the regular season (34 saves in 38 chances, 2.30 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings), but he was kept in mothballs for Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series. He was inconsistent too often and will look to try to bring it all together entering 2018.
The Astros are still without a dependable left-handed relief option. Sipp, in the final year of his three-year, $18 million deal, was left off the postseason roster. Devenski's first-half workload took a toll, as he gave up a .517 OPS before the Midsummer Classic compared to a .719 OPS in the second half.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
There are a few attractive relievers remaining on the free-agent market, including lefty Tony Watson. It remains to be seen if the Astros will try to bolster the bullpen further by adding him or perhaps even Greg Holland, though he would cost Houston a Draft pick.
Peacock remains a wild card. If he's in the bullpen, he could pitch in a few different roles and be a serious weapon. If Sipp gets it together like the Astros hope, that would be a huge boost as well.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.