For the first time in a while, I actually feel good about the Astros’ starting rotation going forward. Although the 2020 ace, Framber Valdez, remains on the IL, the emergence of Cristian Javier and Luis García as legitimate starters in this season’s early going is a positive development. By accounting for the injured Jake Odorizzi, who is also on the IL, there are seven different starting pitchers for the Astros. And I have a feeling that they’re going to need at least seven to get through the majority of 2021 unscathed.
The bullpen, however, is a bit of a different story. The early returns outside of Ryan Pressly (1.50 ERA) and Ryne Stanek (1.88 ERA) haven’t been great. While Joe Smith still sports an unsightly 7.45 ERA, his numbers improve with five consecutive scoreless appearances. Key rookies from last season — Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, and Andre Scrubb — have either been injured, ineffective, or both. Brooks Raley, one of James Click’s best acquisitions last year, has struggled in 12 1⁄3 innings. All said and done, it is easy to see why the bullpen is roughly in the bottom five in the AL by ERA at 4.20 and bottom four by WAR at 0.1.
But the Astros are likely biding their time with any bullpen adjustments, especially as they’re only 18.5 percent into the season. For one, the club currently sports like half of a functional relief corp with Paredes, Taylor, Josh James, Pedro Báez, and Austin Pruitt all on the IL. Scrubb returned right as April turned into May. Not to mention that we might see more new rookies in bigger roles as the season progresses.
I also can’t forget to mention that the eventual return of Valdez and Odorizzi may push one or two current starters to a relief role in the future. García is an obvious choice, but the second one is a conversation for another day.
The gameplan for the Astros as it pertains to the bullpen right now is easy to identify: Play the waiting game and hope the current relievers keep the team in more games than not. With only $3 million to spend under the tax threshold for 2021, there is little room for external improvement. Click may wish to hold that $3 million space in case a more immediate need arises before the trade deadline. Alas, any acquisition at that time would likely be insignificant due to that budget constraint. Houston is banking on internal additions and improvement. Let’s see what happens.