At full strength, Astros' bats heating up at right time

Bregman, Alvarez hit back-to-back homers, Brantley returns to lineup in win over Red Sox

August 30th, 2023

BOSTON -- After activating veteran outfielder Michael Brantley from the injured list on Tuesday, the Astros don’t have any key members of their offense on the IL for the first time this year. Jose Altuve missed 60 games with two injuries, Yordan Alvarez missed 39 games with an oblique strain and Brantley missed the first 133 games of this season following shoulder surgery.

Houston’s offense was already putting up some hefty numbers prior to Brantley’s return, but his presence in the lineup in a 6-2 win over the Red Sox buoyed the Astros, despite him going 0-for-4 with four hard-hit outs. Houston had nine hits and tied a club record with 66 hits in a four-game span ending Tuesday.

The Astros, winners of four in a row, are in a three-way tie in the American League West after the Rangers beat the Mets and the Mariners fell to the A's on Wednesday. With head-to-head record determining tiebreakers in the standings, Houston has the edge over Texas, 6-4, with three games remaining between the clubs from Sept. 4-6, and the Mariners won the season series against the Astros, 8-2.

Houston is 17-11 in its last 28 games, thanks mostly to an offense that’s become a force.

After scoring 30 runs in their previous two games, the Astros kept the hot bats going in the first inning at Fenway Park on Tuesday when Alex Bregman and Alvarez hit back-to-back homers. A two-run double by Mauricio Dubón made it 5-1, and the Astros were on their way to improving to 8-0-2 in their last 10 road series.

“We got some guys starting to swing the bat,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Breggy’s hot, Alvarez is hot, [Jose] Altuve was hot yesterday [hitting for the cycle]. It was a great day for Michael because he hit the ball hard a couple of times and had nothing to show for it. We needed that win bad, so hopefully we can get the sweep tomorrow and go home.”

The runs helped rookie right-hander J.P. France rebound from a disastrous performance against the Red Sox only five days earlier. France allowed two runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings and picked up his 10th win, which is the most through a player’s first 20 career outings in Astros history.

The Astros are slashing .302/.380/.492 with 31 homers in their last 21 games, during which they’re 12-9. They’ve had 14 double-digit hit games in that span and are averaging 6.6 runs and 11.1 hits per game, despite being held to one run or fewer five times since Aug. 13.

Bregman took Red Sox starter Brayan Bello deep in the first inning, giving him 22 homers and 88 RBIs. He went 3-for-5 for his third three-hit game in his last nine games. He’s slashing .432/.545/.795 since Aug. 19.

“It was huge to come out and get some runs on the board,” Bregman said. “We knew we were facing a tough pitcher and a tough team. We knew they were going to battle all game long. I thought J.P. did a great job, made some great adjustments. I thought our lineup was relentless today and it was definitely fun to have Uncle Mike back. He brought a lot of energy to the guys.”

Brantley, playing in his first big league game since June 26, 2022, had exit velocities of 102.2 mph, 99.1 mph, 97.6 mph and 104.1 mph on the four swings in which he put balls in play. Baker said Brantley will start at designated hitter in Wednesday’s series finale.

“It’s a different feeling when he’s in the lineup,” said Dubón, who’s hitting .339 (20-for-59) in August after batting .200 in July. “I think it’s crazy just having him back and everybody swinging it right now.”

Alvarez followed Bregman’s first-inning homer with a 113.1 mph exit velocity laser down the right-field line and into the seats for his second homer in as many games. A fourth-inning double to left that hit high off the Green Monster gave Alvarez hits in eight consecutive at-bats. He’s 36-for-112 (.321) with six homers and 22 RBIs in 29 games since coming off the IL.

“I told him on the flight from Detroit, I said, ‘As soon as you see the Green Monster, you’re going to start going off,’” Bregman said. “He just does a great job of using the whole field, and this is a perfect ballpark for him to do that. He hit a few balls hard to right field, a few balls hard to left. ... It’s a great place for him.”

And great news for a resurgent Astros offense.