The baseball world is apoplectic. They are having a collective aneurysm. The EVIL EMPIRE is returning for their fourth straight ALCS.
Here were some of the reactions:
EPSN—”How angry should you be.”
Baseball Prospectus—”The Astros are still heels, just the extremely whiny kind.”
The Ringer—”Dammit, the Astros are really going to do this, aren’t they.”
Yes they are. After struggling through the regular season, hampered by crushing injuries and slumps by every core player, the Astros have risen from the grave to their fourth straight ALCS appearance.
How did they go from sub-.500 in the regular season to a 2020 playoff powerhouse?
1. The resurrection of the core.
Every one of the 2019 starters on the 2020 roster were down significantly this year. But suddenly in the playoffs these same players became the playoff Astros of lore. Below are the season hitting stats versus the playoff performance.
Carlos Correa:..... season OPS—.709. Playoff OPS—1.715
Jose Altuve:......... season OPS—.629. Playoff OPS—.974
Alex Bregman:......season OPS—.801. Playoff OPS—.944
Michael Brantley: season OPS—.840. Playoff OPS—1.047
George Springer: season OPS—..899. Playoff OPS—.877
Including just the ALDS the numbers are even more stark. Correa OPS—1.754. Altuve OPS—1.326. Bregman OPS—1.167, Brantley OPS—1.105. Springer OPS—1.199
Correa’s renaissance was especially decisive. In 20 playoff AB’s he has 10 hits, 12 RBI, five runs, and four homers.
Correa, Brantley and Springer all had multi-homer games. Between the five above there were 32 RBI and 11 homers in six games. In these six playoff games the batting average with runners in scoring position was .314. In the ALDS it was .333. During the season the team OPS was .720. In the ALDS it was .982.
It seems, after a sixty game regular season slump, that positive regression for the Astros bats occurred at just the right time. Or if you prefer, these playoff warriors found their lionhearts. What a great time to get hot.
2. The Rookie Bullpen
The rookie relievers continue to add to their legend. They were the only good thing about Astros pitching. Below are the ERA’s for the starters, the veteran relief pitchers, and the rookie relievers during the ALDS.
Starter ERA: .........7.20 16 IP (If you exclude Framber Valdez the number is 8.31)
Veteran Relievers: 11.25 4 IP ( This includes the three runs Josh James allowed in Game 3 and the two allowed by Ryan Pressly at the end of Game 4. Pressly’s ERA was 6.00)
Rookie Relievers:...1.50 12 IP
The most impressive in this list of rookie relievers was Enoli Paredes, who pitched 3.2 innings without allowing a single baserunner. He struck out four.
Then there’s Cristian Javier.
Game 4 seemed very much a repeat of Game 3 at the end of five innings, as the Astros held a 7-4 lead in both games. In Game 3 manager Dusty Baker made the very questionable move to keep veteran Josh James in the game, and the A’s tied the score. Many thought Cristian Javier would have been a better choice.
In Game 3 Javier got the call after Blake Taylor finished inning four for Zack Greinke. He added two scoreless innings of his own before being replaced by Enoli Paredes. The Astros ended up winning the game and the series with an 11-6 score.
Could Javier have closed out the win in Game 3 and saved the troubled arm of Game 4’s starter Zack Greinke? We’ll never know.
Blake Taylor added two scoreless innings in relief in the series, although his WHIP of 1.500 was a little shaky. Andre Scrubb had a solid scoreless inning. The only rookie to allow runs was Brooks Raley, who gave up two runs in two innings pitched and took the loss in Game 3.
On the other hand, rookie pitchers got the wins in two of the three games the Astros won in the ALDS, Cristian Javier and Blake Taylor. Javier also got a win in the Wild Card Series after three scoreless innings against the Twins. The other win was awarded to another kind of cinderella story, Framber Valdez, the only starter the Astros seem to be able to rely on at present.
So, the strength of Astros pitching staff, based on the ALDS results are:
Framber Valdez, who prior to this season had a 4.60 ERA in 107.2 innings pitched.
Cristian Javier, whose experience prior to this year topped out at 11 innings at AAA.
Enoli Pardes, whose was last seen before this season pitching at AA Corpus Christi.
Blake Taylor and Andre Scrubb, both AA graduates before this year.
Before the season began would anyone have even been able to guess that Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor and Andre Scrubb would be leading the pitching staff into the ALCS. Javier and Valdez, who each have two wins in the playoffs, are the leading Astros pitchers according to bWAR during the season, with Scrubb just behind Zack Greinke and Blake Taylor not far behind as the sixth highest WAR contributor among Astros pitchers.
Paredes was just behind Taylor in bWAR with 0.5, but a closer look at his ALDS performance puts his excellence in the series into brighter relief. In his 3.2 innings, besides not allowing a baserunner and with four strikeouts, he needed just 38 pitches, 27 of those were strikes! Of those 38 pitches he got eight swings and misses. That’s a 21% swinging strike %. By comparison, Gerrit Cole had a 16.8% swinging strike % in 2019.
During the season Paredes walked almost five batters per nine innings. His whiff rate was only 12.4%.
Yeah, just three + innings, but wow, what a three inning stretch when you really needed it in high leverage.
So the Astros continue to frustrate the haters by advancing yet again into the ALCS. They do so because the five All-Stars in the lineup are finally playing like it, plus the future All-Star, Kyle Tucker. And they advance despite horrible starting pitching and questionable closing pitching. And, of course, a staff which is anchored at present by a bunch of minor leaguers who would have no business being in the major leagues if not for the massive onslaught of injuries that decimated the Astros staff this year.
Can this staff hold up against the Rays or Yankees in a seven game series?
Sure doesn’t look like it.
Then again, they said last year’s Nationals’ bullpen couldn’t withstand the playoff gauntlet with their 29th ranked 5.68 ERA. The Astros, warts and all, had a 4.39 bullpen ERA this year.
Still, it’s a miracle they’ve made it this far, and it looks like it will take another miracle to advance yet again.
But stay tuned. Miracles happen.