Astros feast with Bregman as their table setter

Third baseman clubs decisive homer in 7th, while Abreu's double fuels 4-run 1st

May 16th, 2023

HOUSTON -- There’s a decent chance the Astros could get eight-time All-Star second baseman back from injury and back at the top of their lineup this weekend, which would provide a huge boost to an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the Major Leagues in batting average and near the bottom in OPS.

If Altuve’s impending return wasn’t enough to fill manager Dusty Baker with optimism, the performances on Monday night from and certainly did the trick.

The struggling stars went a combined 4-for-7 with four RBIs in the Astros’ 6-4 win over the Cubs at Minute Maid Park.

Abreu’s two-run double was the highlight of a four-run first inning, and Bregman broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh with a decisive two-run homer. Bregman is 8-for-23 with two walks and no strikeouts in his last 30 plate appearances, and Abreu had his first multihit game since April 21.

“It starts with one [hit],” Baker said. “You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, but you’ve got to start with one. They had good nights tonight. Breggy’s been hitting the ball good with nothing to show for it actually, and we needed those guys to come through tonight.

“It was a tough night for Framber [Valdez]. It happens. Mr. Reliable has been so good throughout the years and was kind of off tonight.”

Valdez struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced before the Cubs tagged him for four runs in the fourth, tying the game on a three-run homer by Christopher Morel. Houston’s bullpen followed with five one-hit scoreless innings, allowing Bregman the chance to play hero in the seventh.

“[Mauricio Dubón] did a great job battling on that at-bat right before to get on first base -- hit a line drive the other way,” Bregman said. “That’s what kind of put me in that situation and I was fortunate enough to square it up enough to get it out of there.”

Dubón’s two out single -- he went 3-for-4 -- against Michael Fulmer set the stage for Bregman, who hit the next pitch -- a cutter -- into the Crawford Boxes for his fifth homer of the season.

The ball came off the bat at 94.9 mph, which was only the third-hardest hit ball of the night for Bregman. His second-inning groundout and fifth-inning single both had a 100 mph exit velocity.

“I felt like all four were hit on the barrel, hit hard,” Bregman said. “It felt good. I’m a believer in over the course of 162 [games], everything will play out the way it’s supposed to. Abreu swung the bat well today and got two knocks. It’s a long season and we’ve got a great team here, and I’m confident in everybody.”

Abreu, who entered the game with a .515 OPS and on Friday was dropped one spot, to fifth, in the lineup, hit a fly ball in the first inning that Morel probably should have caught. Instead, it landed behind him for a two-run double. It had a 29 percent hit probability, according to Statcast.

“Thanks to God he didn’t catch it,” Abreu said with a smile.

Abreu remains in his career-long home run drought that has reached 56 games and 236 plate appearances, but it’s games like Monday that have him believing he could be close to recapturing the kind of form that led the Astros to sign him for $58.5 million.

“Trust me, I try to find any single way to get the job done and get results,” he said. “I come here and try to work every single day, just try to contribute and get good results.”

Both Abreu’s and Bregman’s eyes grew wider when asked about the return of Altuve, who’s headed to Double-A Corpus Christi to continue his Minor League rehab assignment on Tuesday.

Altuve fractured his right thumb in the World Baseball Classic and had surgery, but he could be back in the lineup as early as Friday.

“It’s huge, to be honest,” Bregman said. “We saw him take BP in Seattle [last week] and today again. It might be his best BP I’ve seen him hit. He’s locked in already and it’s good to see.

“Obviously, he brings a ton of energy to this ballclub. Not only energy, but he brings a perennial MVP candidate to the team.”

Abreu has yet to be in the same lineup with Altuve. He can’t wait for that to change.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “I want to be in that lineup every day.”