The Astros found themselves in great position on the morning of Sept. 1 as they packed their bags in Oakland and prepared for a travel day to Arlington. Houston, which had begun the season 21-29 through the first two months, had improbably clawed all the way back to within one
The Astros found themselves in great position on the morning of Sept. 1 as they packed their bags in Oakland and prepared for a travel day to Arlington. Houston, which had begun the season 21-29 through the first two months, had improbably clawed all the way back to within one game of the second American League Wild Card spot.
That was the good news. The bad news was what lay ahead: 13 straight games against teams that were in first place in their division -- including the first seven on the road.
:: Bullpen of the Week winners ::
Despite that brutal slate of games that came amid the heat of a September playoff race, the Astros enter today still within shouting distance. Houston remains just 3 1/2 games behind the Orioles and Blue Jays in the Wild Card chase with three big home games still remaining against the first-place Rangers. After that series, the Astros will play their last 16 remaining contests against clubs who currently have an equal or worse record than they have, meaning they should have quite a bit of control about where they end up at season's end.
Considering the level of competition the Astros just played, the fact that they still have a legitimate shot at October is a testament to how this team has fought. Houston's bullpen is no exception; in fact, the Astros' relievers put up a performance this past week that was not only good enough to keep them in the hunt -- it was also worthy of the Bullpen of the Week Award, presented by The Hartford.
As part of the MLB Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2016 season, MLB.com is honoring the "Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford." An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team bullpen performance.
Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:
• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save
Astros relievers allowed 10 runs (nine earned, one unearned) over a massive workload of 31 2/3 innings, giving them a winning total of 134 points. They also collected 37 strikeouts while walking just 12 batters, and closer Ken Giles picked up two saves.
Houston's rotation averaged just four innings per game last week, but the club's bullpen stepped up to fill in the gaps. Here's one example of how the Astros' relievers withstood adversity and succeeded despite unexpected circumstances:
The unexpected: Houston may have already been behind the eight ball last Tuesday when they were forced to start right-handed callup Brad Peacock against AL Cy Young Award contender Corey Kluber of the Indians. But Peacock more than held his own, limiting Cleveland to one run over the first 3 2/3 innings while the Houston offense touched up Kluber for four early runs. Peacock was on a short leash with manager A.J. Hinch, however, and he was pulled with two outs in the fourth after giving up a double to Tyler Naquin. Houston's bullpen -- which had worked 8 2/3 combined innings the previous two days -- was now tasked with getting the final 16 outs of the ballgame against a potent Indians offense.
How they prevailed: Rookie right-hander James Hoyt entered the game and immediately struck out Roberto Pérez to strand Naquin on second and end the fourth. Hoyt came back out and worked a perfect fifth inning against the heart of the Indians' lineup before handing the ball to another rookie, Chris Devenski, who continued with a perfect sixth inning.
"Devenski is really good at his job," Hinch said last week of the right-hander, who is sporting a sparkling 2.11 ERA over 98 innings of work this year. "He's been able to respond to any challenge we've given him, whether that's been a spot start, whether that's been troubleshooting back-to-back days, whether it's multiple innings out of the pen."
Veteran Will Harris continued shutting down the Indians with three easy outs in the seventh while the offense stalled at the plate against a stabilized Kluber. In the eighth, Cleveland's Carlos Santana greeted Luke Gregerson with a solo home run before the veteran settled down to retire the next three Indians in order.
The game became even tighter in the ninth, when two wild pitches by Giles and an error by catcher Evan Gattis allowed Jose Ramirez to come home and bring the Indians to within a run. But with Coco Crisp standing as the potential tying run on second base, Giles settled down to induce a flyout from Naquin and a check-swing strikeout by Brandon Guyer. The Astros began the night with a brief start from a September callup against a former Cy Young Award winner, but thanks to their bullpen, they came away with an important victory.
"Not every outing's going to be easy in September," Giles said last week. "All it is is just bearing down and getting one out at a time."
The Astros' extended workload Sunday in their 9-5 loss to the Cubs allowed them to hold off Cleveland, who finished second in the BRS standings with 109 points. The Indians' Cody Allen has proven to be a perfect complement to recent acquisition Andrew Miller, as the hard-throwing right-hander has not allowed a run over his last eight appearances while striking out 14 batters over a span of 8 2/3 innings.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.