The Astros rode strong pitching in sweeping the Twins in the American League Wild Card Series, giving up two runs in 18 innings. The offense? Well, it sputtered as it did for much of the regular season, which remains surprising in a lineup that includes so many accomplished hitters.
Finding a way to get the offense going against the A’s in the AL Division Series beginning Monday in Los Angeles figures to be paramount to Houston’s chances of advancing. The Astros hit .205 with a .585 OPS and averaged 2.5 runs per game in 10 games against the A’s in the regular season, which is why they went 3-7 against Oakland. Houston was just 10-for-61 (.164) with runners in scoring position against the A’s.
Driving in runners, especially with two outs, was a season-long issue for the Astros, who saw their slugging percentage fall from last year’s Major League record .495 to .408 in ‘20. Their contact rate was down slightly, and their barrel percentage fell from 6.8 percent last year to 5.7 percent this year. When the Astros did make contact, they didn’t hit the ball as hard.
Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker said last month it’s been difficult to get all the players locked in at the same time, especially when you consider the coronavirus shutdown meant players weren’t getting the daily reps they would normally get during a normal season.
“Some guys have been battling some stuff, whether it be their swing or fatigue, off-days, inconsistency, whatever you have,” Snitker said. “We’ve seen some bright spots and have some guys who have been fairly consistent. We also have some guys who have been grinding away to get locked in and stay locked in. In a really short season, you don’t have the length to get going and stay hot.”
Veteran outfielder Michael Brantley and the emergence of Kyle Tucker have been the bright spots of Houston’s offense in 2020, but here’s a closer look at how their other impact hitters have fared:
Alex Bregman: After finishing a close second to Mike Trout in the AL MVP race last year, Bregman slashed .242/.350/.451 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 42 games (he missed three weeks with a strained hamstring). Bregman had more strikeouts (26) than walks (24) for the first time since 2017, but barely. A locked-in Bregman could carry the offense.
Hot streak: He batted .304/.392/.551 with three homers and nine RBIs in 18 games between July 31-Aug. 19.
Statcast says: Bregman slugged .250 on breaking balls this year, down substantially from his .588 slugging on breaking balls last year.
Carlos Correa: The dramatic drop-off in power has been a head scratcher for the Astros. He had only five homers in 221 plate appearances, though he hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. Correa hit .264/.326/.383 with only 14 extra-base hits this year. Still, he’s a big-game performer who has come up big in the playoffs throughout this career.
Hot streak: Correa hit .373/.458/.569 in the first 14 games of the season.
Statcast says: Correa is at his best when he’s hitting to the opposite field, and his opposite-field percentage dropped to 22.9 percent this year from 27.9 percent last year (33.4 percent in ’18).
Yuli Gurriel: The short season might have robbed Gurriel more than any other player. Last year, he hit .338 with 26 homers and 72 RBIs in his final 73 games over a slow start. This year, he hit .232/.274/.384 in 211 at-bats with six homers and 22 RBIs.
Hot streak: He hit .338/.365/.618 with three homers and nine RBIs in 19 games from Aug. 8-29.
Statcast says: His BABIP (.235) was well below his career average (.291) and he actually had a much higher solid contact percentage this year (7.4) than last year (4.2).
Jose Altuve: Altuve has been a shell of his former self at the plate this year. It’s fair to wonder how the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal is weighing on him considering his terrific track record. He had career lows across the board: .219 batting average, .286 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage. He went 0-for-7 in the Wild Card Series but had a key bases-loaded walk in Game 1.
Hot streak: He went 9-for-18 with no strikeouts in four games from Aug. 19-22.
Statcast says: Altuve’s chase percentage is way up: 35.2 percent from 30.0 percent the previous two years.
George Springer: Springer overcame a slow start at the plate and rallied to post very solid numbers. He hit .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers and 32 RBIs and finished with an .899 OPS and remains a very dangerous presence at the top of the order. He’s a free agent at season’s end, so this could be his last run in an Astros uniform.
Hot streak: In 25 games in September, he batted .316 (31-for-98) with nine home runs, 15 RBIs and a 1.033 OPS.
Statcast says: Springer posted a 1.008 OPS in his 50 first-inning plate appearances this season.