'That's the Brantley we missed': LF stands out

October 8th, 2021

HOUSTON -- is no stranger to the postseason. In fact, he has often thrived in October.

Since joining the Astros ahead of the 2019 season, Brantley has hit .311/.391/.426 in two postseason trips. In Houston’s 6-1 win over the White Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, Brantley went 2-for-4, lacing a two-run single in the fourth inning and adding a vital sacrifice bunt in the third.

He now owns a 12-game postseason hitting streak dating back to Game 1 of the 2020 ALDS, good for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind George Springer (14) and (13).

“We did a great job as a team overall,” Brantley said. “The postseason isn’t about one guy for the most part; it's been a team effort, always. When you have a lineup like we do … I think that's important. The key is to keep it simple and trust one another.”

The Astros were no doubt fueled by Brantley’s sac bunt as they got out to a hot start Thursday, surging to an early 3-0 lead over the White Sox by the end of the third inning.

Though they sport one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball, the Astros thrived on small ball and aggressive baserunning early, with both run-scoring innings beginning with leadoff walks. Yordan Alvarez drew the first free pass off White Sox starter Lance Lynn in the second, followed by Altuve in the third.

Brantley, who was on the 10-day injured list with a sore right knee earlier this month, laid down a bunt in the third and tried to leg it out for a single. Brantley was called out, but Altuve advanced to second and then to third on a Lynn wild pitch.

Brantley’s sacrifice bunt was only his second since the start of the 2014 season (including playoffs). He said he just felt like it was a good play at that time, especially with the White Sox playing in a heavy shift that left a hole open down the third-base line.

The Astros then took advantage, with Altuve scoring the first run of the inning by beating out Yoán Moncada’s throw home with a nifty slide on a grounder from Alex Bregman. Starter Lance McCullers Jr., who tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, said Altuve’s slide felt like the turning point in the game.

Alvarez added an RBI double that scored Bregman to round out the frame. It was the first hit of the inning.

Brantley struggled through the last month of the regular season, slashing just .243/.288/.297 over his final 30 games. He spent Sept. 15-28 on the IL. Despite that, he did it all in the Astros’ win and continued his postseason dominance.

A healthy Brantley made a huge difference for the Astros. He’s almost unshiftable, though teams still did it about 44 percent of the time in the regular season. He always takes advantage, whether that’s with a bunt like against the White Sox or just finding holes in the opposing team’s defense.

“Teams can do whatever they want,” Brantley said. “They can shift. It really doesn't matter to me. I just need to stay within myself and do whatever I can for the team.”

Manager Dusty Baker emphasized that Brantley is always putting the ball in play, not striking out and driving the ball to all fields.

“That's the Brantley we missed when he was out,” Baker said. “He changes the whole lineup. He's a quality left-handed bat. Any time you've got a guy like that out of your lineup -- you could tell we were having trouble scoring runs while Michael was out of the lineup. So I'm glad that he got well. He's feeling better every day.”