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Worried about the Astros in the Playoffs? Stop.

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Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The Astros just got swept by the last place Oakland Athletics, largely due to a pitching staff so tepid that it allowed its opponents to score forty one runs over four games.

That’s pretty bad.

Somewhat understandably, Astros fans are freaking out, particularly against the backdrop of August, during which the Astros were one of the more poor-performing teams in the American League.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

The second greatest trick he ever pulled was creating the 40-man MLB September roster. Through that insidious act, he has made the Astros look like a flawed team, destined to fall on their face in the playoffs.

Even though they aren’t.

Rewind

Back during the Astros’ 2015 playoff run, they pooped themselves out during September. The club used only five starting pitchers during the month, and their leading arms in bullpen innings were also the top arms in their bullpen.

The 2015 Astros did not have a commanding standings lead during the grueling playoff chase , and so were forced to use their most important bullets early and often.

The end result was a staff that charged into October at full speed, driving the train into the American League Division series, where it crashed and burned on the tired arms of the bullpen.

That bullpen, consisting of Mike Fiers, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Josh Fields, Tony Sipp, Pat Neshek, and Oliver Perez, totaled eighty five innings during September. Other bullpen members? 32 innings.

2017 September’s Stinky Bullpen

The 2017 Astros find themselves in a different position. Although they are in jeopardy of losing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they still maintain a thirteen-game stranglehold on the AL West.

The Astros, for all intents and purposes, made the playoffs in April.

Because of that, they have been able to adopt a different strategy than the balls-to-the-wall firefight of 2015.

And the results of that new strategy during the regular season have not been pretty.

Over the last thirty days, the Astros’ pitching staff has posted a 4.26 ERA; 6th in the American League. But the bullpen has yielded a woebegotten 4.83 earned runs per nine during that time. Only the Royals, Tigers, and White Sox can be found below the Astros, distantly waving white flags at the rest of baseball.

The bullpen has stunk.

Ignore all of that

That’s right. Ignore it. It’s completely meaningless.

Because the Astros, during their uninspiring 15-13 run of the last thirty days, have been one of the best-pitching teams in baseball.

Whuh?

The Astros 2017 Playoff Pitching Staff:

With the lede sufficiently buried 600 words into this article, here is the Astros’ pitching over the last thirty days, looking at only presumptive playoff pitchers:

Rotation:
Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton:
3.43 ERA

Bullpen:
Ken Giles, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano, Will Harris, Tyler Clippard
3.57 ERA

Not too shabby. But let’s look a little closer.

The Rotation assumes that Collin McHugh will not be healthy, or that he will miss the playoff roster in favor of Charlie Morton.

It also assumes that Lance McCullers will stay in the rotation despite struggling for the past few months and perhaps having the best stuff to move into the bullpen if Morton and McHugh are both available.

  • Rotation minus Morton, plus McHugh: 2.66 ERA
  • Rotation minus McCullers, plus McHugh: 3.01 ERA

The above also makes certain assumptions about the bullpen. Some, such as Martes and Fiers missing the playoff roster, are a teensy bit debatable. As may be the size of the bullpen (eight pitchers). A big one is if the Astros think Tyler Clippard’s poor showing in September should keep him out of the bullpen altogether. Maybe they take Sipp, so that they can have a second lefty. They have plenty of options. Maybe McHugh or McCullers takes the last spot. Let’s play with the numbers.

  • Bullpen minus Clippard, plus McHugh: 2.78 ERA
  • Bullpen minus Clippard, plus Martes: 3.18 ERA
  • Bullpen minus Clippard, plus Hoyt: 2.93 ERA

Something else

While still asking for a decent number of innings from bullpen studs Musgrove (15), Devenski (12), and Giles (13), this year’s Astros has an advantage that the 2015 squad did not.

During the last thirty days, the Astros have used seven different starting pitchers. As the Astros enter the final three weeks of the regular season, manager A.J. Hinch will be able to mix-and-match both the rotation and the bullpen. The club is still using a six-man rotation, and may continue doing so through September to keep guys fresh.

The end

So do not panic, my fellow Astros fans. The pitchers have actually been pitching exceptionally well—that is, the pitchers who matter most in October.

Their current program appears to make sure that their players are as rested as they can be while still seeing enough action to keep them sharp.

The 2017 playoff Astros are still among the very best in baseball. October cannot get here soon enough!