The Astros’ most dangerous hitter will be in the lineup in left field at Truist Park for Game 3 of the Fall Classic on Friday night, weather permitting. Even with a pitcher hitting ninth in the lineup, Houston will still have its seven most potent batters in the lineup, along with catcher Martín Maldonado. By starting Alvarez in left field, Astros manager Dusty Baker would move Michael Brantley from left to right, and Kyle Tucker from right to center.
That means Chas McCormick or Jose Siri -- the two center fielders on the roster -- will be on the bench while the Astros are in Atlanta.
“It's a different league,” said Baker, whose entire managerial career was spent in the NL prior to coming to Houston last year. “Different responsibilities for different people. My outfield is going to be the best that I can come up with that day.”
The biggest challenge for the Astros may be navigating the ninth spot in the batting order after the starting pitcher leaves the game, especially if the starter leaves early. There should be no shortage of pinch-hit opportunities for bench players Aledmys Díaz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, Siri and McCormick. McCormick and Castro hit better against right-handers; Siri and Díaz against lefties.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, can play all over the infield and even left field, so he can pinch-hit for almost anybody in the lineup. He’s a switch-hitter who’s much better against left-handers, which could be a matchup opportunity for the Astros against the lefties in the back end of Atlanta’s bullpen.
“That's why we wanted to carry Marwin,” Baker said. “You have additional guys off the bench for potential double switches, even though there's not a bunch of guys that you want to double switch with to get out of your lineup. So it does present some challenges, but we think we have some guys that are ready for it.”
Houston went 3-7 in NL parks in the regular season, averaging 4.2 runs per game (season average was 5.3). Two of those games came in April when the Astros weren’t yet comfortable with Alvarez playing the outfield, so he wasn’t in the lineup. He started four of the other eight games in road interleague play in left field.
Tucker, a Gold Glove Award finalist in right field the last two years, is a competent center fielder, but not as good as he is in right. Brantley’s arm isn’t as good as Tucker’s from right field, but Houston's outfield coach Gary Pettis said the Astros won’t suffer a drop-off defensively.
“We just try to put them in a position where the batter is most likely going to hit the ball, I think Alvarez, Tucker and Brantley will be just fine out there,” Pettis said.
If the Astros have a lead late in the eighth or ninth innings, expect them to insert McCormick in center field, moving Tucker back to right and Brantley in left. That’s the Astros’ best defensive alignment, but there’s no scenario in which Houston would keep Alvarez out of the starting lineup for the benefit of defense.
“There's a lot of strategy on both sides, but there's more, I think, with the no DH, with the pitcher hitting,” Baker said
Right-hander Luis Garcia, who will start Game 3 for the Astros, said he’s prepared to hit and plans to use one of Alvarez’s bats. Veteran Zack Greinke, the likely Game 4 starter, has nine career homers and knows how to handle the bat. But Greinke is only stretched out to 50 pitches, so he might not even get a chance to bat.
“Some of the guys don't miss it, some pitchers, and there's some pitchers that absolutely miss it,” Baker said. “Like Greinke, he's dying to hit. I mean, once it ever changes to no DH [in both leagues], then it will probably never change back, and that's something that would sadden me.”