Monday’s abrupt collapse by the Astros against the Mariners left plenty of people scratching their heads about what to do with this bullpen. I mean, anyone with internet access could search for Brooks Raley’s splits against right-handed hitters this season to know why bringing him into that situation last night had the potential to backfire. Sure enough, it did backfire in grand fashion as an 8-7 advantage turned into an 11-8 deficit with one swing of the bat.
To be fair to Raley, the game was unnecessarily closer than it should’ve been before his appearance. Luis Garcia coughed up five earned runs — six in total — in 4 2⁄3 innings to help keep Seattle close despite Houston’s early offensive outburst. Bryan Abreu and Ryne Stanek allowed a combined three earned runs in 1 2⁄3 innings to give Raley a nearly non-existent margin of error. With Ryan Pressly and Cristian Javier unavailable, in addition to using Blake Taylor earlier in this game, Raley was likely viewed as the best of the rest. Once you read over the active roster for this game and who was left as potential options, you would probably agree with that assessment for using Raley in that spot. His peripheral numbers, in general, paint a better picture. Dusty Baker was trying to survive the night with what he had and it wasn’t enough...again.
The situation last night is a microcosm of the Astros bullpen issues all season long. Yes, they’re not great nor downright terrible. There will be the occasional collapse, but this staff is adequate to survive the trials of the regular season with some heartburn. That said, this level of production is far from ideal for a postseason contender as this group of relievers isn’t built to survive multiple high-leverage situations in the postseason unless the pitcher’s last name is Pressly. Even with multiple off days in October to help pitchers rest, a club can’t exclusively use one reliever for every tension-building occasion.
With a 4.15 ERA and a 1.5 fWAR by the end of July, this unit is firmly in the middle of the bullpen pecking order across Major League Baseball. While rotation depth will help strengthen the reserves once the postseason arrives, there still isn’t enough to cover all of the possible demands in October. Hence, the Astros are looking to acquire some bullpen help one way or another by the trade deadline. Even with Pedro Báez and Josh James hopefully progressing to the point to return to Major League action, this is a results-oriented business, and not much time will be given to overcome any prolonged slumps. With only 61 games remaining on the schedule, the clock is ticking to help improve this roster’s weakest point.