'Trying too hard'? Breaking down Astros' early slump

June 11th, 2022

HOUSTON -- There’s no easy way around it: The Astros’ offense has been very average this season and remains their weak link when put up against the stellar defense and solid pitching that has carried them to a nine-game lead in the American League West mid-June. 

Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Marlins, who got two homers apiece from Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jesús Aguilar, was an exercise in futility and frustration for the bats and further proof of Houston’s offensive shortcomings. The Astros had 11 hits and drew five walks, but they were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position, leaving the bases stranded in the sixth inning when they were down by two runs. They had leadoff doubles in the fourth and eighth but couldn't score.

“We had a number of opportunities with runners on and less than two outs and that hurt us, but we couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark either,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The good sign is, we had opportunities and we’re swinging better. I just think maybe some of the guys are trying too hard in those situations, because we had a number of opportunities.”

The scuffling offense is nothing new to the Astros, who entered the series against the Marlins ranked 22nd in the Major Leagues with a .235 batting average. They ranked 28th prior to Friday in batting average with runners on base at .227 and 19th with runners in scoring position at .242. Conversely, they were fourth in MLB with a .259 average with nobody on base.

“If we keep putting [runners] out there, we know we’re going to pick them up,” Baker said. “I just feel we’re right around the corner of scoring a lot of runs for a long time. The name of the game is opportunity first, and you’ve got to pick them up second.”

As a result, the Astros are scoring more than a run fewer per game in 2022 (4.1) than they did in 2021 (5.3). Houston’s offense has been carried by American League Most Valuable Player candidate Yordan Alvarez (3-for-5 on Friday), former MVP Jose Altuve, AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Peña and outfielder Kyle Tucker, but even Tucker’s OPS for the season (.847) is off last year’s pace (.917).

In fact, of the seven players who have been regulars in the lineup the last two seasons, four currently have a lower OPS than they did at the end of the 2021 season: 

Alex Bregman
2021: .777 OPS
2022: .708 OPS 

Kyle Tucker
2021: .917 OPS
2022: .847 OPS 

Yuli Gurriel
2021: .846 OPS
2022: .625 OPS 

Martín Maldonado
2021: .573 OPS
2022: .472 OPS

Bregman and Gurriel, both of whom are hitting .219, were being counted on by the Astros to be key bats in the middle of the lineup, especially following the departure of Carlos Correa in the offseason. The good news for both of them is that there is plenty of time to turn things around.

Bregman was up in a big spot in the sixth inning Friday. Trailing 6-4, the Astros loaded the bases with two out for Bregman, who got ahead in the count, 3-0, against reliever Steven Okert and wound up flying out to end the inning and strand three. The Astros left 11 runners on base. The loss was the second in 14 games this year in which Houston had double-digit hits.

“I don’t know if they’re pressing, but everybody wants to be the guy to do the job,” Baker said. “There’s such a thing as trying too hard -- that’s not necessarily pressing. When you’re trying too hard as a whole, you end up swinging at pitches you ordinarily wouldn’t swing at. The main thing is, we have to relax and just realize the [pitcher is] in trouble and not us. That’s the mindset you have to have with runners on base.”