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Despite being contenders, the Astros can’t rest on their laurels

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The Astros’ pen is in pain right now. It’s time for James Click to stop the bleeding.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros are still a good team and, certainly, a tough one to beat. They’re chasing the Athletics in the AL West, and the usual expectation in the environment is they will keep competing during the whole regular season.

They have a great lineup that’s carrying the team on its shoulders, and the starting pitching has been alright. But to put it all together, they need help. Going straight to the point, bullpen help.

A few days ago, GM James Click said here in an article from Brian McTaggart of MLB.com to have faith in the current bullpen. “We think these guys can do it,” he stated before letting everyone know the team is willing to go for someone else not currently on Houston’s roster if there’s a chance.

But in our reality of being simple writers, fans, and non-executive guys, actually, there’s a different truth: the Astros do need efficient, more experienced relievers. What worked last year isn’t working this time. And we’re only almost two months into the season. Imagine what this would look like in late July...

Right now, there’s not a single short reliever to trust in the ‘pen besides Ryan Pressly. But he’s the closer now. So how do the Astros get to Pressly after the starter is gone? It hasn’t been easy at all. The Astros’ bullpen has accounted for 12 of the team’s 22 losses, tied for second-most in the American League.

Between innings seven and eight, the Astros have the fourth-worst ERA in the young circuit (4.82) and the MLB-worst opponent on-base percentage (.345). As if it wasn’t enough, they own the third-worst number of walks (43) in the AL in those innings.

Weeks ago, Ryne Stanek was looking like the perfect bridge to Pressly, but he fell off the Earth recently and has been inconsistent with his control. In fact, in his last seven appearances before Friday (5 23 innings), Stanek’s given up four hits (two home runs) and nine walks, including six earned runs (.975 OPS).

Last year’s studs Andre Scrubb, Enoli Paredes, and Brooks Raley are exactly the opposite of 2020. They combine 34 hits and 26 earned runs across 36 innings of work (6.50 ERA), with 27 bases on balls before yesterday’s loss against the Padres. And we all know how that 11th inning unraveled for Houston.

You can also add that the Astros don’t have a dominant left-hander in the ‘pen — Kent Emanuel doesn’t count as he’s not pitched in high-leverage spots. In case you’re wondering, excluding Kent Emanuel, their lefties combine for an awful 6.31 ERA.

The Astros are getting to a negative point in which, to win games, they need to be at least five runs ahead or have their starter to go seven-plus innings. Obviously, that’s not sustainable. Now with Cristian Javier going to the reliever staff, it can get him a little breather. But the Astros need to take action soon if they want the bullpen to be competitive and stop losing or threatening leads.

The positive aspect for them is they won’t probably have to break the bank or trade a bunch of promising players to get a decent reliever that can help in the long run. It will only take that Click puts his hands to work and start making some calls. Hopefully, those phones will start ringing soon.