Ken Giles is close to a perfect fit for the Astros.
NASHVILLE—The Astros could hardly make a more perfect acquisition than the one they were on the verge of making Wednesday night.
How do those final six outs look now?
Ken Giles just might take care of them the next time the Astros are positioned to advance to the American League Championship Series.
Some defeats linger in the hearts and minds, and that’s especially true of one like the Astros suffered in Game 4 of the AL Division Series. They turned a four-run lead over to their bullpen in the eighth inning.
That bullpen had been one of baseball’s best for five months. And then in September, it became arguably baseball’s worst as injuries, fatigue and a tired starting rotation took its toll.
When a 6-2 lead turned into a 9-6 loss in Game 4 and when the Astros went on to lose a deciding ALDS Game 5 to the Royals, general manager Jeff Luhnow drew up a simple wish list for 2016:
1. Right-handed reliever.
2. Left-handed reliever.
3. Starting pitcher.
Luhnow was close to completing part of that to-do list on Wednesday as he attempted to finalize a trade to get Phillies closer Ken Giles for four prospects, including right-hander Vincent Velazquez, one of the organization’s best arms.
This is just the kind of trade Luhnow hoped to be able to make when he spent three seasons replenishing the minor league system. When the Astros had a specific need to fill, he wanted to be able to outbid other competitors.
In return, Luhnow is getting one of baseball’s dominant young closers back, one the Astros will have under control for the next five seasons.
Giles is 25 years old and relies on a fastball/slider combination. His fastball was clocked consistently in the 97-mph range and regularly ticked 100 mph. In two seasons in the big leagues, his ERA is 1.56. Among all big league relievers, only Wade Davis (0.97) and Dellin Betances (1.45) have been better.
After the Phillies traded Jonathan Papelbon in late July, Giles slid into the closer’s role and made good on 15 of 17 save chances. In 26 1/3 innings, he allowed just 12 base runners with five walks and 33 strikeouts.
Luhnow is still shopping for at least one lefty reliever, but Giles is a nice start. He joins a string of quality arms—Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Josh Fields and Will Harris.
Projections are tricky things, but with a solid core, an improved bullpen and a rich farm system, the Astros believe they’re good enough to make a second straight postseason run.
Luhnow also focused on his bullpen a year ago by signing free agents Gregerson and Neshek. They were part of a group that helped transform one of baseball’s worst bullpens in 2014 to one of its best in 2015. On September 1st last season, the Astros bullpen had a 2.73 ERA, fourth-best in the majors.
After that, not so much. Houston’s bullpen had a 5.63 ERA the rest of the way, worst in baseball. And in the postseason, that bullpen had a 6.23 ERA, last among baseball’s 10 postseason teams.
When the ALDS was there to be won in Game 4, four Houston relievers allowed five earned runs in two innings. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he still thinks about that game and about how close his young team was to getting to the ALCS.
But when the Astros turned a huge corner in 2015 to make their first playoff appearance in 10 years, they knew they were not a perfect club. They believed young stars like shortstop Carlos Correa and right fielder George Springer would continue to improve and that there’d be a steady stream of young talent headed toward the big leagues.
In Giles, the Astros didn’t just get a reliable reliever. They got someone who could be a dominant one for a few years. In that way, he fits nicely with the impact players Luhnow has scattered around the diamond.
After that Game 5 loss to the Royals, the Astros spoke of being bitterly disappointed. They also spoke of 2015 being just the beginning of a bright and shiny new era of Astros baseball. That new era will look even better with Ken Giles pitching the ninth inning.