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The Astros bullpen in 2011: Not just good for Ed Wade jokes

Whether it's actual good play, luck, randomness or a combination of all three, the Astros' post Trade Deadline winning has brought positive attention to a group that at its best was forgotten and at its worst was named the worst organization in baseball by Dave Cameron and Fangraphs. Dave's own ability to grade organizations notwithstanding, I, like I'm sure most of you, am much more enthused to think about and discuss the state of the Houston Astros than I was even a month ago.

While much of the Astros success of late has come from players that have been on the Astros for an extended period of time such as Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Hunter Pence, Bud Norris and Michael Bourn, there at least appears to be a renewed commitment to building a winner, rather than mixing and matching pieces of major league scrap.

This past Tuesday's 16 inning victory against the Phillies brought to everyone's attention a future strength of the Astros: the bullpen. Ed Wade snark aside, he really has done a nice job assembling this group while turning over much of the roster simultaneously. Matt Lindstrom while recovering from injury right now, has improved his strikeout and walk rates, while posting a career best ground ball percentage. His contract should be an extremely reasonable amount next season (around $2 million, perhaps?), and would fit in well as our closer again in 2011.

For all of the (deserved) hub bub about Brandon Lyon's bad contract coming into the season, we haven't had to listen to much about it during the season. Lyon is what he is: a pretty good relief pitcher who doesn't strike out many but has limited the home run ball ridiculously well. Couple that with his pitching in some very high leverage situations for this team, and the versatile Lyon almost certainly will be pitching eighth innings for this team next season.

These two were the big name additions to the bullpen in 2010, but the less heralded Wilton Lopez has been a revelation to Astro fans. He walks guys damn well next to never and until he gave up the tying home run with two outs in the ninth in the aforementioned 16 inning marathon vs. Philly, Lopez hadn't given up a run since July 18th. That's right: July 18th! If he were a Tampa Bay Ray, the blogging community would have named a star after him. Since he's an Astro, well, even a blind squirrel...

After the late inning men, the 2011 edition of our bullpen will not be short on options to be used as the two Brads see fit. Younger relief pitchers Mark Melancon and Fernando Abad will compete for a roster spot next spring training after getting their first sniffs at life as an Astro this season. The injured troika of Alberto Arias, Sammy Gervacio and Chia Jen Lo haven't been mentioned a ton because they haven't pitched in quite some time, but if healthy, all three can contribute positively for a major league bullpen. To cap it off, what if Henry Villar, Matt Navarez or Wesley Wright figure something out this off season and impress the Astros in February and March?

Options are never a bad thing, and this team should have many coming out of the pen to begin the 2011 season. Jeff Fulchino was a lauded newcomer to the Astros in 2009, but he will have to really improve upon his 2010 campaign to even have a chance at a roster spot next season. It's amazing what can change in just two seasons, and the Astros bullpen is just a microcosm of the holistic changes surrounding this team. With much of 2010 yet to play, auditions begin now for a chance to play on one of the more interesting Astros teams in recent seasons.