Resilience, Long Relief Keys to Early Success

Despite their 13-6 record, the Astros have trailed after six innings in 10 of their 19 games. How have the Astros maintained such a commanding lead in the AL-West?

It was a less than ideal start for Joe Musgrove and the Astros in their series finale Sunday against the Rays. After collecting two quick outs in the first, Musgrove allowed five consecutive hits— a triple, a homer, and three straight singles— and just like that the Rays had a 4-0 lead. 

The Astros were down, but they knew were not out. The Astros have overcome two 5-0 deficits this season, the first when they scored 10 unanswered in a 10-5 win in Seattle, the second when they scored 10 in the final four innings of a 10-6 victory in Oakland.

With our offense, no game is over until its over.

Carlos Correa got the scoring started for the Astros Sunday, driving an opposite field liner into the seats to cut the lead to 2. Jose Altuve delivered a homer of his own a few innings later, and suddenly the Astros were within one.

Meanwhile, 24 year old Joe Musgrove was proving he has the composure to be a full-time starter in Major League Baseball. After a horrendous first, Musgrove shutdown the Rays, allowing 0 runs on 0 hits through his final five innings.

Thanks to Musgrove's resilience, the Astros found themselves with a chance to win headed into the ninth. Yuli Gurriel started the inning with a single, and two batters later Evan Gattis tied the game with a sacrifice fly. In extras, Brian McCann gave the ‘Stros their first lead on an RBI single, and Giles closed it out in the bottom of the 10th to notch his 5th save in as many opportunities.

The comeback was a good one, but really nothing out of the ordinary. Despite their 13-6 record, the Astros have trailed in 14 of their 19 games. Even more surprising is the fact they have trailed after six innings in 10 of their 19. 

So how has the team that has trailed entering the 7th in over half their games become to first team to 13 wins? 

First, offense. No comeback is possible without offense, and after a sluggish start, Astro batters have found their stroke. This has especially been true late in games-- when trailing after six, Astro hitters are 51 for 147 (.348) with 7 homers and 25 RBI’s. They are also hitting .292 with RISP when trailing after six, 26 points higher higher than their overall average with RISP.

But equally if not more important to the Astro's comebacks this season have been the relievers. The Astro's have managed to win 5 of the 10 games in which they trailed after six innings. Astro relievers allowed just 3 runs in 25 2/3 innings (1.05 ERA) in those games.

Closer Ken Giles and setup men Luke Gregerson and Will Harris receive most of the accolades in the Astro's pen, and deservingly so. They have proven track records and are off to solid starts this season. But it's lesser-known guys like Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock who have been crucial to the Astro's come from behind victories.

Devenski is inarguably the most underrated reliever in the league. He leads all relievers in strikeouts with 25 (the next closest has 17) and has allowed only 2 runs in 13 1/3 innings this season (1.35 ERA). In the Astros extra-inning victory over the Mariners in the third game of the season, Devo threw four shutout innings, allowing 0 runs, 0 hits and striking out 7.

He kept the game tied until George Springer delivered a walk-off homer in the 13th.

Devo notched his first win of the season in another extra inning victory, allowing 1 run on 3 hits with another 7 strikeouts in the final four innings against Kansas City.

In his most recent appearance, Devo showed he can close a game or two as well. After 6 2/3 scoreless innings from Lance McCullers, Devo pitched the final 2 1/3, allowing 1 run and notching his second career save. 

Equally if not more impressive this season has been Brad Peacock, a journeyman who battled to make the opening day roster out of Spring Training. On the season, Peacock has gone 9.2 innings, allowing 0 runs, 1 hit (ONE), 4 walks and 15 strikeouts. Batters are 1 for 30 against him (.033). He has the best ERA in the league because it is literally zero.

Peacock is generally used in low-leverage situations, but has already notched two wins this season (most among Astro relievers). He was crucial to yesterday's come from behind win, pitching two scoreless frames to keep the Astros within one headed into the ninth. 

The Astros have the offensive firepower to overcome any deficit, so long as the deficit doesn't continue to grow larger. The ability of Devenski and Peacock to stop the bleeding, eat innings and give the team a chance to win has been absolutely invaluable.

I doubt Devo or Peacock read this article, but I hope they realize how important they are to the success of this team. When a starter has a rough night, it is up to them to salvage the game. And so far they have done just that. 

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