Baserunning, timely hitting help spur Astros

May 8th, 2016

HOUSTON -- The Astros have been known for their pop during the past year and change, and they've been burned by their lack of timely hitting in 2016. After all, they entered Sunday's finale against Seattle hitting just .222 with runners in scoring position, 27th in the Majors. And that was an improvement from the last-place spot they occupied in the stat for much of April.

But the narrative is slowly turning -- albeit halted briefly by a frustrating Saturday loss full of missed opportunities -- and a 5-1 win over the Mariners both earned them a split and temporarily healed a bugaboo.

The Astros went 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position and pushed across an additional run on an error while pushing the envelope on the basepaths and overall looking like a more complete offense. Manager A.J. Hinch expressed concern earlier in the weekend about Houston's overall offensive performance and whether it was too reliant on big outbursts or the home run ball.

"We're at our best when we can do a little bit of both," Hinch said. "We're a dangerous offense, given all the power that we have top to bottom. But to play this game over the course of a season and against a certain style of pitcher, we're going to have to put the ball in play. The game rewards you for contact."

The seventh inning was emblematic of that approach. Jose Altuve reached on a sharp single, swiped second and took third base on an errant throw. George Springer brought him home on a sharply hit error to the shortstop, stole second himself and came home on Carlos Correa's RBI single.

"I told Springer that [after] his at-bat," Hinch said. "He didn't get a hit or a [RBI] or anything, but the game rewards contact in those situations. I think our offense will mature, and our players will start to feel better about ourselves."

The Astros swiped five bases as a team, three of them in that seventh inning, a return to last season when Houston led the American League in home runs and steals -- an odd combination -- for much of the year. It was a welcome sight.

"We put pressure on them when we had the lead," Hinch said. "To have that reinserted into our game was nice to see us rewarded for that. We didn't run into any outs, we didn't get late breaks and have them throw us out trying to be aggressive. I liked the step forward in that department."

It wasn't just in that seventh inning, either. Colby Rasmus brought home Atluve in the third on a base hit bunt that bested the shift. Marwin Gonzalez posted a third consecutive multihit day.

But Tyler White might be the poster boy for Houston's day at the plate. The rookie got off to a scalding start, hitting five home runs in the first 20 games and batting above .400 into the season's third week. But he cooled down significantly, even suffering an 0-for-16 stretch before this series. He's atoned the past two days with consecutive multihit games, his first since April 11.

White posted the game's first run on a ground-rule RBI double, and he absolutely smoked both of his doubles in a 2-for-4 effort.

"Hitting the home runs early might have hurt me a little bit, because I was maybe trying to hit them because I was missing under the ball and started trying to do other things, just off my game," White said. "Today and the last couple games was where I normally am on, getting line drive hits rather than driving in runs on a home run."

Added Hinch: "Good offenses always score in multiple ways, not just on the three-run homer."