Hinch has no concerns about relief corps

Hinch has no concerns about relief corps

KANSAS CITY -- The Astros' bullpen might not strike fear in the hearts of opponents in the same fashion as the Royals', but manager A.J. Hinch can't help but feel confident in his group of relievers heading into the American League Division Series based on how they've performed for much of season.

Royals relievers led the AL with a 2.69 ERA during the regular season, with the Astros coming in fourth in the AL, at 3.27. The Astros were ranked directly behind the Royals for much of the season before a rough September in which they were rocked for a 5.63 ERA -- the highest in baseball for the month.

Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 HOU 5, KC 2
Gm 2 Oct. 9 KC 5, HOU 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 HOU 4, KC 2
Gm 4 Oct. 12 KC 9, HOU 6
Gm 5 Oct. 14 KC 7, HOU 2

"The bullpen, for the better part of five months, was near the top in baseball," Hinch said. "We do it a little bit differently. We don't necessarily have the most velocity, but we have a great effectiveness against right-handers and left-handers. We have had some guys that get opposite-handed hitters out effectively. So that's always nice to have."

The bullpen did pitch better down the stretch, which is why the Astros were able to rally to win the second AL Wild Card spot. Lefty Tony Sipp and right-handers Will Harris and Luke Gregerson were terrific in Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, throwing three scoreless innings in support of starter Dallas Keuchel.

"Despite the bullpen's struggles of September, October is a new season for everybody," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "The reason we're here, in large part, is because the bullpen performed so well for the vast majority of the season. I was not surprised. Sipp, Harris and Gregerson had done a terrific job all year and ... [on Tuesday] night."

Hinch relies on matchups and hot hands in deciding which relievers he uses in certain situations, with the exception of closer Gregerson. The struggles of Pat Neshek have brought Sipp into bigger roles at the end of the season against both right-handers and left-handers.

"I think when you get to playoff baseball and certainly the way we played on this last road trip, you get into the game at Yankees Stadium [on Tuesday] night, any thought of struggles early in the month as a team or the bullpen having a little bit of a rough go is out the window," Hinch said. "Our guys are confident. They understand. They've been ready since about the second or third inning on of every game for about the last two or three weeks.

"So I think we've cleared the hurdle mentally of some of the down times and some of the struggles. I'll take the first five-plus months of their performance and believe that's what's going to show up down the stretch here and in this playoff run."

In the playoffs, where every pitch is magnified, Sipp and his fellow relievers will take the ball whenever they can.

"In the playoffs, that could be anywhere," Sipp said. "Right now you just try to be in big spots and try to step up. We have been in some big spots and have an added responsibility here lately. I don't think you can [have a] role in the playoffs. You can go early or late."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.