(Photo credit to Keith Allison, Wikipedia Creative Commons)
What do Houston Astros’ closer Ken Giles and former pitcher Curt Schilling have in common? First of all, they both attended Yavapai Junior College in Prescott, AZ and after Wednesday, both will have pitched in the World Series. Giles can only hope to replicate what Schilling did in 2001 with the Diamondbacks and take home the World Series MVP award.
Giles was selected in the seventh round (241st overall) by the Philadelphia Phillies after posting a 1.18 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 38 innings at Yavapai JC. The right-handed closer actually went to New Mexico Junior College before playing for the Yavapai Roughriders.
With New Mexico JC, Giles went 0-2 with a 14.29 ERA over 11 ⅓ innings of work. He was nearly pushed out of the sport early in his career, yet here he is, on the verge of making the highest leverage outings in his baseball career.
After racing through Philadelphia’s minor league system, Giles finally got the call to the MLB. He made 44 appearances in his rookie year (2014) and posted a remarkable 1.18 ERA en route to finishing fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
He only spent a few years in the Phillies organization, as he was stuck behind Jonathan Papelbon for the closing role. Due to Giles’ rising value and the Phillies inability to win games, Giles was shipped off to the Houston Astros for former number one overall pick Mark Appel along with Vince Velasquez.
In 2016, Giles tied for the team lead in saves (15) with Luke Gregerson. Will Harris also added 12 saves of his own. This lead to quite the competition in early 2017 as Harris and Gregerson were battling for the fickle stat. Giles would overcome the noise and enjoy his best season with Houston, as he went 1-3 with 34 saves and a 2.30 ERA, while striking out 83 in 62 ⅔ innings. Comparatively, Harris notched two saves and Gregerson only had one.
Giles predominantly features a four-seam fastball and a nasty slider. In 2017, Giles threw his fastball 52.6 percent of the time, while releasing his slider on 47.4 percent of his pitches. The fastball tops off at 102 mph, but mostly sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, while the slider ranges from 83-90 mph.
Although he uses the fastball more often, hitters had a better time at the dish when he used that pitch. Over the course of the 2017 season, Giles threw his fastball 597 times, but hitters were 35-for-113 (.310 average) against it. Meanwhile, he threw the slider 538 times and hitters went 17-for-148 (.115 average). Also, Giles only struck out 22, while he walked 23 batters via the fastball.
Houston’s bullpen has been shaky in the playoffs however, with six relievers having ERAs of 4.50 or higher. Giles is included in that list, as he holds a 7.50 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP, as he has allowed five earned runs over six innings. The bullpen game may be the deciding factor in this series, as the Dodgers’ pen has been rock solid all season, and the Astros’ bullpen will need to perform at that level too.
Giles finished off Game One of the ALCS and received the save. He also was called on to close out Game Six with a 7-1 lead in the ninth inning, in which he allowed two base runners, but kept the Yankees off the scoreboard in the frame.
Unfortunately, Giles didn’t get off to the best start to his World Series career as he blew the save in Game Two against the Dodgers. With the Astros leading 5-3, Giles entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning, and proceeded to give up a home run to Yasiel Puig to cut the lead to 5-4. After striking out the next two hitters, Giles walked Logan Forsythe, who then advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Kike Hernandez roped a single that would bring around Forsythe to tie the game at 5-5.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch may have a hard time handing the ball over to Giles moving forward, as he has now allowed runs in five of his first six postseason appearances. However, if his name does get called on again and he is able to shut down the Dodgers, Astros fans might forget his misfortunes thus far in the 2017 postseason.