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We Won the Division! Now What are the Implictions (and looming managerial decisions)?

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was fun! A week ago we were desperate just to make it in. Then on Thursday we were disappointed that JV couldn’t be spared from a Saturday start and would at the earliest be ready for G3 of the Wild Card. But the Astros kept winning and us fans got to watch that inside flush. Six days off! DS rotation set! Here are some implications:

  1. Rest, rest, and more rest. The bullpen has pitched a ton of high leverage innings in the past week. They get to reset. JP France had a family health situation that forced him to skip a turn. Let’s hope the extra time helps him. And Christian Javier was burned for the entire Wild Card. Now we have him.
  2. Rehab for the injured guys. Chas seemed less than 100% after a tough HBP. Let’s see him at 100%. Likewise, Brantley is less than 100%.
  3. Home field advantage? Rather than playing all WC games on the road and then going to Baltimore or Arlington, the team is now playing at home. While that doesn’t do much for winning in 2023, it does help solve left field, where Brantley or Yordan will have less ground to cover. Which means Chas plays center.... or does he? Here are some implications...
  4. Chas or Dubon? If Brantley and Alvarez play LF and DH (I’m assuming Brantley sits vs. a lefty and Alvarez would DH in that case), then Dusty will have to choose between Dubon and Chas. We know Dusty’s mode. He’ll look for any stat he can cite to justify playing the guy he wants (Yainer doesn’t hit lefties). Chas went 2-18 last week. Dubon went 3-14 but had a big swing. Dubon is has been good over the last two months. But Chas has had by far the better season and is more of a threat to run at a time when runs are at a premium. Chas ended the season with 3.8 fWAR and he might get benched.
  5. G1 starter, 3 days rest, and Games 3 & 4. It would be great if the Astros just swept the DS and none of these factors lined up. But that’s not realistic. Games 1 & 2 are Saturday Sunday, Games 3 & 4 are Tuesday and Wednesday, and a potential Game 5 is Friday. It will be JV and Framber for the first two, in whatever order, and both could pitch Game 5 on full rest. But the Game 1 starter could go in Game 4 on three days rest, especially if the Astros are down 2-1. Heck, JV went on three days rest in the 2019 DS against Tampa up 2-1. If Javier starts Game 3, then the choice is France or Urquidy for Game 4. For the record, I hate short rest. It rarely works. And these pitchers aren’t used to it. I’d rather it be Framber than JV, but I’d rather JV pitch Game 1. I’d trust Urquidy or France on a short leash over JV or Framber on short rest.
  6. Diaz or Maldy. We know exactly how this will go. When Dusty feels urgency, he thinks his best chance is with Maldy. That’s just who he is. Down 2-0 he might try Yainer. But Maldy is his ride or die. Maldy started every game last week. The only chance we see Yainer start a game is at DH against a lefty. But even then, I’m guessing Dusty would want Yordan at DH, Dubon in center, and Chas in left.
  7. How does the pen line up? Whatever you want to say about Dusty, he proved himself expert at managing the pen last year in the playoffs. Stanek just wasn’t coming in for leverage. And he rode Abreu and Pressly hard. They were the two best relievers. Right now four three guys are hot: Abreu (no runs in two months), Maton, and Neris (both have September ERAs under 1). And Sousa is straight lava, having been perfect before yesterday and posting 5.1 IP with 0 runs. Montero has been okay. Graveman and Pressly, meanwhile, have struggled, and especially strugged with walks this month. Which brings us to the topic of walks in general. Graveman has been giving up free passes at a crazy rate, which his why his FIP and xFIP with Houston are both near 5 in his 22.1 IP with the Astros. Neris has also been walking guys all season (11.4%, 4.08/9) His LOB rate of 90% and his FIP of 3.83 make him the Ryan Stanek of 2023. But damn is he good when it’s all on the line! Actually, all of them walk too many guys except Pressly, who caught the bug this month. If we’re rounding, Abreu is at 11%, Stanek and Montero at 10%. Baby Face is at 9%. If nature abhors a vacuum, FIP abhors a free pass. They all seem due for regression. Only one other bullpen has a bigger drop of FIP to ERA and no other bullpen has a better strand rate. This bullpen does it Texas style, by striking guys out (#1). And for all the talk of overuse, Graveman soaked up some leverage innings and they finished 29th in bullpen IP. Hinch hated the free pass and Dusty seems to live with it. Which is all one big detour to say that the Astros bullpen has played with fire this year, and this month its excellence has largely been on the backs of near perfection free three pitchers. Will Dusty ride the hot hands? Who will Dusty turn to with a 5-3 lead in the 6th? Maton? Graveman? Montero? This team would not have won last year without a near perfect bullpen, and they’ll need to be even better this year with a weaker defense and a shakier starting unit.