Following a disappointing loss in Game 3 on Monday, the Astros are now back at it with Justin Verlander on short rest for Game 4. A bold strategy by Houston, but you have to stick with your best pitchers in a series like this one.
But Game 4 may not be an affair decided only upon any one starter, rather the collective effort of multiple players. I am looking at the back-end of the Astros’ bullpen in this instance, particularly Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly. For Houston to likely succeed in October, they’ll need both relievers to be highly effective. It is one thing to depend on your starters to cover some innings of relief in a do-or-die game, but it is another to get through an entire postseason without your key relievers. The 2017 Astros needed their best relievers, even if struggling, to get some key outs.
Based on what we’ve seen in Games 1 and 2 in this ALDS, Osuna nor Pressly have looked the part of effective relievers. During his appearance in this series’ first game, Pressly allowed two earned runs on four hits in less than an inning of work. Osuna got a key out in the bottom of the eighth during Game 2, however, he left Will Harris a bases loaded jam with only one out in the subsequent ninth inning. If those appearances are any indication of the club’s two better relievers, then it doesn’t bode well for Houston.
Thankfully, it was only one bad appearance (so far) for both pitchers. Better days could be ahead. Pressly, for one, was effective in his last four appearances following his return from the IL prior to Game 1. While his four-seam velocity was down a bit (1.5 MPH), the former Twin looked more like himself on the mound. In his lone appearance so far in this series, only Austin Meadow’s double had an exit velocity higher than 100 MPH. The Rays weren’t exactly stinging the ball heavily or anything like that. If anything, it seems like Pressly’s location was simply off based on his last four regular season appearances compared to Game 1 last Friday. While these are small samples, hopefully it does indicate something that can easily be remedied.
Simply put, I think Pressly may have been a bit rusty as he was just rounding back into form prior to the postseason. Let’s hope he got the rust off now.
For Osuna, his troubles in Game 2 may have more been more of a byproduct with pitch selection than anything else.
Astros closer Roberto Osuna felt iffy about the game plan to throw so many sliders. “It’s not my best pitch.” And he knew it wasn’t working Saturday. After, he talked it over with catcher Martin Maldonada. Osuna wants more fastballs.— Hunter Atkins (@HunterAtkins35) October 6, 2019
The former Blue Jay threw 27 pitches during his ALDS appearance against Tampa, in which 13 were sliders. So, nearly 50 percent, right? Throughout the regular season, Osuna threw his slider only 19.6 percent of the time. Game 2 was the second time all year when Osuna has thrown more ten or more sliders in a single appearance, the first of which occurred on August 16 against the A’s. It is possible that the Astros thought Osuna, who wasn’t sure about the slider-heavy approach based on the above quote, may throw the Rays off a bit with that pitch plan. After all, Tampa saw Osuna in action just twice this season and he only threw five sliders against them during the regular season. Plus, the right-hander’s slider had a .168 wOBA this year. But it was clear that Osuna’s slider was missing its intended targets.
From the start of the ninth inning, it became apparent that Osuna didn’t have the best feel for his slider. With a high velocity four-seam fastball at his disposal, it did feel a bit weird that the slider was given such emphasis. But if the plan was to go slider-heavy, then he did it. The results, however, were not optimal as his location was clearly off.
At this juncture, I would assume that the Astros would turn back to Osuna and Pressly in high-leverage situations. They probably should, I might add. While the issues from the first two games of this ALDS are worrisome, it isn’t to a point where they are not useful. This is the time of the year when postseason teams live or die with their best arms. For the Astros, that would mean leaning heavily upon Osuna and Pressly along with Harris to navigate the tricky October waters.