Can a slumping Tucker flip script in time to boost Astros?

October 17th, 2023

ARLINGTON --  certainly isn’t to blame for the Astros’ lack of offense in the first two games of the American League Championship Series. He’s not the only member of Houston’s offense who’s struggled at the plate the past two games, but the spotlight shines brighter on star players, both in good times and bad.

Tucker, the Astros’ Most Valuable Player in 2023 who figures to get some down-ballot AL MVP votes, is 2-for-22 in the postseason with seven strikeouts, including an 0-for-8 showing in the first two games of the ALCS against the Rangers. For that reason, Houston manager Dusty Baker said Tuesday he’s considering moving the right fielder down the batting order for Wednesday’s Game 3 -- a game Houston desperately needs to win. The Astros trail, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series.

“It's not the first starter that's had a tough playoffs,” Baker said. “Tuck is going to get going. We had a good conversation today. And for a temporary situation, I might move him down the order, try to take a little bit off of him. So we'll see. And there are a few guys we need to get going, or we all need to get going.”

Tucker hit fifth in the lineup in Game 1 of the ALCS and was moved up to third in Game 2, just ahead of Yordan Alvarez. Tucker went 0-for-4 in each game. In the regular season, Tucker made 56 starts in both the third and fifth spots in the order and 43 starts in the cleanup spot, but he hasn’t hit lower than fifth this year.

“Whatever we can do possibly to try and win games is fine,” Tucker said. “We have talks throughout the year and stuff like that and other stuff in general, but I’m just trying to focus on going out there and making good plays on defense and trying to move runners over and get guys in. We’ll see how tomorrow goes, and hopefully, we’ll put some runs on the board, and pitching and defense play a big part in it, too.”

So in which spot will Tucker bat in Game 3, with Max Scherzer making the start for the Rangers? Baker mentioned Michael Brantley (20-for-54, including postseason) has had more success against Scherzer than Tucker (1-for-6), which means Tucker could be dropped as low as sixth, behind Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Alvarez, José Abreu and Brantley.

“I wrestle at night and don't sleep sometimes trying to figure out different lineups,” Baker said. “That's all I do.”

Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker said Tucker is probably trying to do a bit too much on offense in the postseason after hitting .284 with 29 homers, 37 doubles, five triples and an AL-best 112 RBIs in the regular season. Tucker was one of the most dynamic hitters in the AL this year.

“You don’t keep guys like that down very long,” Snitker said. “He’s had a rough few games to start, but we expect him to make some adjustments, get it right and come back out there the rest of this series and be as good a hitter as he’s been the whole time.”

Tucker had the hardest-hit ball in Game 2 that wasn’t a home run when he lined out to first base in the first inning. The exit velocity was 106.4 mph. Tucker has yet to outwardly show any frustration, but it’s there.

“It’s tough, especially since I haven’t really done much and we lost the first two games,” Tucker said. “Obviously, it’s never just one thing that sways the game one way or another. If you can contribute, whether it’s moving guys over or driving guys in, that could be … the difference in the game. It’s an out, but as long as it contributes to getting a run in is huge, especially in the playoffs. Any way I can do that or get a hit or something, anything matters at this point in the year.”

Tucker posted a 1.096 OPS in Astros wins in the regular season and a .609 OPS in losses, so his impact on the lineup is massive. 

“He’s a great hitter and he’s going through a tough stretch, but we’ve still got a couple of games left, and if he can produce, it will be huge,” outfielder Chas McCormick said. “It’s not just him, though. It’s me, as well. It’s a couple of other guys. I think we’re in good shape. I’ve seen these guys hit really well, so I think we can do the same these next couple days.”