HOUSTON -- When the Astros’ offense is humming, it can be a thing of beauty. Those days have been few and far between in the second half of the season, with the Astros having topped five runs in a game only twice since they scored 21 against the White Sox on Aug. 18.
It’s no secret the Astros, who became the first American League team to reach 90 wins with a 12-4 victory over the Angels on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, have been paced this year by a pitching staff that has the best ERA in the AL. The offense is in the middle of the pack in the Majors, but nowhere near the juggernaut they were in 2017 or ‘19.
Still, it’s days like Sunday that remind you how dangerous the Astros’ offense can be on any given day. Houston clubbed five home runs, including a go-ahead grand slam by third baseman Alex Bregman in the third inning, to inch closer to its seventh playoff berth in the past eight seasons.
“I think consistency of at-bats is extremely important,” said Bregman, who hit his first regular-season grand slam since May 5, 2019. “That’s something we want to have going down the stretch and going into the postseason. The guys in here know how to put together really good at-bat after really good at-bat, and I think when we do that, we’re a really good offense.”
At 90-50, the Astros are tied with their 2019 club -- which set a Major League record for slugging percentage and featured the 1-2 finishers in the AL Cy Young race -- for their best record after 140 games. Houston has won 90 games in each of its full seasons played since ‘17.
“That’s a benchmark I have for myself and the team every year,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I always say, if we can get 15 victories per month and you add on from there, there’s a good chance you’ll be somewhere in the playoff hunt. We’re there not even in the middle of September, and that’s a good sign for us.”
Mauricio Dubón started the home run parade with a pop fly shot into the Crawford Boxes to lead off the third after Houston starter Luis Garcia put his team in a 3-0 hole by allowing early homers to Shohei Ohtani and Andrew Velazquez. Bregman hit the second pitch from reliever Mike Mayers into the Houston bullpen to swing the game, putting the Astros ahead, 5-3, in the third.
“This is how I used to hear about Bregman hitting balls out of right-center field,” Baker said. “That’s the first one that I’ve seen this year from him. That’s a great sign.”
One of the biggest reasons the Astros’ offense has struggled has been the sluggish second half by Alvarez. He was an AL Most Valuable Player candidate in the first half, which he capped with AL Player of the Month honors in June, but a right hand injury has plagued him since. Baker said the homer to center is a sign he’s getting back to normal.
“That means he’s letting the ball get deep, and his hand strength is coming back where he can get to those balls instead of fouling them off,” Baker said. “Very few people here can reach the center-field wall like he can. I told him yesterday, ‘Hey man, you’re close.’ Boy, that would be nice to have him get hot down the stretch here.”
Mancini, acquired in a July trade with the Orioles, had been slumping, as well, slashing .150/.306/.175 with one RBI in the 13 games prior to Sunday, when he went 1-for-2 with three RBIs, a homer and three walks. He credited hitting coach Troy Snitker with helping him with some mid-game mechanical adjustments and allowing him to join the Astros’ home run party.
“It's really fun, especially with an unideal start to the game,” Mancini said. “[Garcia] did such a good job, bouncing back and throwing [five] great innings after the first, and he kept us in the game, and luckily, our offense had a great day.”