The Astros’ bullpen was the best in baseball during the regular season. In the postseason, en route to winning a World Series title with a 4-1 victory over the Phillies on Saturday, calling Houston’s relievers dominant seems like a gross understatement.
Among 94 teams that saw their bullpens log 35 or more innings in a single postseason, the Astros accomplished all of this:
• The lowest ERA: 0.83, with just five earned runs over 54 1/3 innings
• The lowest opponents’ batting average: .126
• The lowest opponents’ on-base percentage: .215
• The lowest opponents’ slugging percentage: .208
• The lowest WHIP: 0.75
Houston's bullpen is also the first to throw at least 40 innings in a single postseason and post a sub-1.00 ERA.
That’s simply another stratosphere of bullpen success. The previous benchmark for the lowest bullpen ERA (minimum 35 innings) was 1.05, posted by the 1973 A’s.
“All the hard work has finally paid off,” Astros closer Ryan Pressly told MLB Network after notching his sixth postseason save. “Y’all don’t get to see how hard these guys work -- this pitching staff, the bullpen -- we come to the field every day trying to get better. We just want to get better at what we do, to perfect our craft. It’s finally paid off.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker was criticized following the two World Series losses to the Phillies for leaving starting pitchers in too long and not making more use of his elite bullpen. In particular, Lance McCullers Jr. surrendered five home runs, the most allowed by a pitcher in a playoff game, during a 7-0 defeat in Game 3 as Philadelphia took a 2-1 series lead.
But Houston bounced back to win three in a row and claim the World Series, in part because Baker rode his bullpen harder to get what was needed.
After lefty starter Framber Valdez pitched six innings with one run allowed in Game 6, the Astros boosted him with a four-run bottom of the sixth inning that included Yordan Alvarez’s booming three-run homer to center field.
That left the job to a familiar bullpen trio to finish off the Phillies.
Héctor Neris pitched a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts. Bryan Abreu handled the eighth perfectly with one strikeout. Against the best portion of the Philadelphia lineup, Pressly gave up a one-out single to J.T. Realmuto but got Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos to fly out on first-pitch offerings to secure Houston’s World Series championship.
“I was counting the outs in the eighth and in the ninth,” Baker said. “And I was thinking, ‘Please, Press, no drama in the ninth.’ And I was saying ... ‘Man, ‘give 'em your slider.’ That's what I was thinking.”
Baker didn’t have to worry about drama, especially since Abreu and Pressly were particularly stingy all month. They combined to allow only one unearned run in 22 1/3 postseason innings while striking out 32 of 85 batters faced.
“This pitching staff has been amazing all year,” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “That bullpen, our bullpen, has been really, really good.”