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Ignore The Relief Pitchers Of The ALCS At Your Own Peril

Aaron Boone signals to the bullpen
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

I hope you didn't miss Part One of this two-part blog. That'd be a real "blown save" on your part.

Regardless, I have here listed for you the men in the bullpens for the Astros and the Yankees as they begin their battle for the American League pennant. Like it or not, you should know them if you want the fullest possible understanding of what's going down in the back halves of these games. The list is ordered from most to least satisfying to hit a walk-off homer against—good to bad, in layman's terms. You'll notice that the Astros seem to have the advantage in this area. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Ryan Pressly (RHP, Astros)

The two-time all-star has managed to put his name on a couple of noteworthy accomplishments this season, closing out the Astros’ combined no-hitter in June and striking out the side to give the team 20 total strikeouts in one game in July. At 33 years old, Pressly in his third season as the team’s clearcut closer, and though that role usually guarantees at least a couple of memorable failures here and there, he’s continued to be a brick wall in the playoffs and deny comeback bids with his absolutely loopy curveball. This is Pressly’s fifth straight playoffs in Houston, with all of the prior ones ending in disappointment. But when the Astros have lost in the biggest moments, he's never been the one to blame.

Rafael Montero (RHP, Astros)

Monday was his 32nd birthday! Happy belated birthday to Rafael Montero, who is currently enjoying his best season yet after mostly failed stints across the Mets, Rangers, and Mariners. He was one of many Astros pitchers whom Seattle couldn’t get to in the ALDS, and for the whole year he sports a beautiful 1.024 WHIP and 2.37 ERA through what were mostly a bunch of very high-leverage innings. With some cruel horizontal movement in his arsenal, he makes it hard for guys to do more than muster some weak grounders. Hell, he makes it hard for them to not look like fools.

Wandy Peralta (LHP, Yankees)

Peralta was a fixture of the late innings in the ALDS, getting the ball in every single game. In Game 3 that didn’t work out so hot, but the fact that he was right back at it closing out each of the next two Yankee wins shows the trust that his manager has in him. The 31-year-old, in the midst of his best year yet, gets by with deception more than power, striking out just 7.5 per nine innings while inducing some of the league’s weakest contact. But he’s still good for a few nasty swings and misses in most of his appearances.

Clay Holmes (RHP, Yankees)

With four scoreless and hitless ALDS appearances under his belt after a regular season cut short by injury, it looks safe to say that the Yankees’ first choice for the closer spot for most of the year is back and operating at something near full strength. Holmes has been a key guy in this pen since the Pirates dealt him at the deadline last year. The raw strikeout numbers—a little over one per inning—won’t blow you away, by modern reliever standards at least. But his sinker/slider combination can be a pain in the neck (for hitters, and also sometimes the pitcher, too). It’s rare to see Holmes get beat by anything worse than a single.

Cristian Javier (RHP, Astros)

The apparent odd man out of the Astros’ starting rotation can enter from the pen if need be, and in his only appearance so far he gave up a seventh-inning dinger to Eugenio Suarez in Game 1 of the ALDS. The 25-year-old enjoyed a lot of success in his first real season as a starter, after the COVID-shortened 2020 and a 2021 mostly spent in relief. But even with a WHIP of 0.948, he was still crowded out by other arms last series. It’s unclear what his role will be for this one, but in theory he should be dangerous and effective at any time.

Bryan Abreu (RHP, Astros)

This kid’s performances have been smooth as smooth can be, and he continued his coming-out season with a trio of shutdown appearances in the ALDS. The 25-year-old’s control might be a little lacking, but he doesn’t need it with the weapons he’s got: a high-90s fastball coupled with an unpredictable slider that puts all the pressure on the anxious hitter to sort out ball from strike. Against lefties in particular, Abreu’s pitches are just impossible to get a good read on, and while he’s not often called upon for the highest of high-leverage situations, he’s a decent bet to infuriate anyone he faces.

Jonathan Loáisiga (RHP, Yankees)

Loáisiga’s funny. Not haha funny, but strange funny. When I see his best stuff, it looks terrifying, as he throws a high-90s heater and a curve that hitters can travel all over the ballpark trying to chase. But while he has had significant stretches of success in his five-year career, hitters don’t seem all that frightened of him at the moment. In only one of his last 12 appearances has Loáisiga held the opposing batters without a hit. Even though they’re almost always just base knocks, and more often than not he can bear down and get out of a jam (like he did on Tuesday night), something just feels a little off about his work of late. I think that the Astros, who make almost as much contact as the Guardians but with way more power, would love to see Loáisiga jogging in.

Hunter Brown (RHP, Astros)

Houston’s top prospect made his debut in September and has already been entrusted with three innings of postseason work where he’s shown no rookie jitters. The former Wayne State Warrior gets his hype mainly from a curveball that, like a Looney Tunes character, seems to hang in the air, look down, and then suddenly remember that it’s supposed to fall like an anvil. Brown’s been unsolvable so far at the Major League level, with an ERA of just 0.89 after 20 career innings. The Astros probably won't expose him too much in a long series, but in the 12th and 13th innings against Seattle, he clearly proved he can swim in the deep end. 

Ryne Stanek (RHP, Astros)

Stanek’s season-long duel with Pressly over the correct spelling of Ryne/Ryan ended in a draw, as while he admittedly got the easier innings Stanek still pulled the plug on everyone he faced with a franchise reliever record 1.15 ERA. Most people will say it’s luck, because Stanek is wild, not particularly deceptive, and mostly rides his very powerful fastball to freedom. I like his vibes, though. He’s the player remaining in this postseason who looks most likely to own a pet alligator.

Héctor Neris (RHP, Astros)

The longtime Phillies reliever signed a nice little deal with the Astros this offseason and, facing his first playoff batter after nine years in the Majors, he survived trial by fire and stranded the bases loaded with a two-out groundout in Game 2. (Those few pitches alone earned him the win.) Neris has mostly brought what he did in Philadelphia to Houston, racking up above-average mid-to-late-inning appearances by using deception to get strikeouts. But he’s also been the beneficiary of significantly fewer home runs allowed, even as his fly ball rate has increased. That’s usually a red flag.

Clarke Schmidt (RHP, Yankees)

Clarke D. Schmidt, actually, which to me sounds like the secret identity of a forgotten Avenger from the ’70s. (He has a brother named Clate, too.) The 26-year-old showed off his versatility for a stretched Yankees staff this year, making a few spot starts while also finding modest success in the middle and late innings. He took the loss in Game 3 when he failed to clean up Wandy Peralta’s ninth-inning mess, but even though he was out of his depth when most fans first acquainted themselves with him, lower-pressure situations can find him spinning the ball like a top, daring hitters to crush it. Sometimes they do, but apparently not often enough to make him a no-go in a save situation when a series is tied 1-1.

Miguel Castro (RHP, Yankees)

The 27-year-old who’s already worn five MLB uniforms was on the Yankees’ roster for the ALDS, but he didn’t appear and due to a shoulder injury has actually only pitched two innings since July 8. His career numbers are befitting a guy who’s passed through five teams in eight years, though he did find at least a bit of stability in the Bronx this season. Still, he’s mainly a guy whose absence only hurt because it compounded all the other losses the Yanks’ bullpen had suffered.

Will Smith (LHP, Astros)

This is Will Smith The Pitcher, who closed out last year’s World Series against the very same Astros for whom he now draws a paycheck. Has this reliever actually been working as a double agent for Atlanta since they traded him at the deadline? The Astros sure seem to think so, because they left him off their ALDS roster. Or maybe that was because Houston wasn’t scared of Seattle’s lefties.

Lou Trivino (RHP, Yankees)

No relation to Lee Trevino, this pitcher unexpectedly proved himself to be the better (or at least healthier) return in the Frankie Montas trade that the Yankees made with the A’s at the deadline. Trivino gave up just four earned in 21.2 pinstriped innings while his teammate made eight rough starts before landing on the IL. The former Slippery Rock, uh, Rock doesn’t seem to do anything especially well, and his 1.66 ERA with New York looks very flukey when compared to the 6.47 he put up in the first half in Oakland. But he’s kept a job by avoiding predictability and utilizing a deep bag of potential pitches. Look for him in the sixth inning.

Ron Marinaccio (RHP, Yankees)

Guess what state this guy’s from. The rookie out of Toms River, who wears No. 97 because that’s the only one the Yankees haven’t retired yet, is still shrouded in mystery because of a shin injury that’s kept him out of the postseason so far. If he does play, the Yankees will get a filthy change-up but also a literal hit-and-miss ability to locate his pitches.

Lucas Luetge (LHP, Yankees)

This 35-year-old broke in with the Mariners in 2012, hung around the minors from 2016 through 2020, and then somehow broke back in with the Yankees to put together a very solid season. He’s the kind of underwhelming yet effective lefty you picture when you hear the word “crafty.” But despite a 2022 with another really good ERA (2.67), the wheels came off in the end of the year, as Luetge gave up at least one hit in each of his last 14 appearances in the regular season and had a WHIP that topped two in the final month. That’s why, despite being on the ALDS roster, he never got to leave the bullpen.

Aroldis Chapman (LHP, Yankees)

You won’t see him anywhere near this ALCS, and not just because he holds such a bad track record against the Astros in the playoffs. The impending free agent, who’s had a rocky year to say the least, got left off the ALDS roster after missing a mandatory workout, and he wasn’t re-added after the Yankees eliminated the Guardians. That’s bad news … for Houston.

Phil Maton (RHP, Astros)

He broke his hand punching a locker after the last game of the regular season. He’s out for the playoffs.

Joba Chamberlain (RHP, Yankees)

He retired in 2017. Get outta here!

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