Not much went right for the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday. The bullpen was very good and it needed to be with Framber Valdez failing to make it through the third inning. The offense scattered eight hits and seven of the eight belonged to Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, and Yuli Gurriel. Those three went 7 for 13. The rest of the Astros went 1 for 22.
“You can’t guide the ball. All you can do is hit it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said about his offense following Game 1. “We were getting a number of two-out hits (in the ALCS), and that was the difference really in the game. We didn’t get the two-out hits. If you can get them any time you wanted to, you’d never make an out. The ball didn’t bounce our way tonight, and it bounced theirs.”
Leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and No. 3 hitter Alex Bregman went a combined 0 for 10 with five strikeouts in Game 1. Altuve had his first career three-strikeout game in the postseason, and he popped up the first pitch of the at-bat with runners on the corners and two outs against a tiring AJ Minter in the fourth inning. It was Houston’s best chance to get back into the game.
The Astros reached the World Series even though Altuve and Bregman were fairly quiet against the Red Sox in the ALCS. Altuve did hit the game-tying home run in Game 4, so he wasn’t devoid of impact, though the two infielders combined to go 8 for 47 (.170) in the six games. Altuve had three hits in ALDS Game 4 against the White Sox and he has three hits in seven games since.
When Altuve falls into a slump, he tends to get overly aggressive and swing at just about everything. He saw only 13 pitches in Game 1 while going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. He saw 14 pitches in four at-bats in Game 6 of the ALCS, 16 pitches in five at-bats in Game 5 of the ALCS, and 17 pitches in five at-bats in Game 4 of the ALCS. That’s only 60 pitches in 19 trips to the plate.
Altuve has swung at the first pitch in 10 of those 19 plate appearances and the Red Sox and Braves noticed. Here are the locations of the first pitch of those 19 plate appearances:
Not many (any?) hittable pitches there. Opponents know Altuve is being too aggressive at the moment, so they’re throwing first pitches out of the zone and hoping he chases. When he’s right, Altuve’s good enough that he can put those pitches in play and get hits. Right now though, he’s in-between. More than anything, he needs to slow down a bit and show some patience.
As for Bregman, his postseason slump is more concerning than Altuve’s because his postseason slump is more than a postseason slump. It dates back to the regular season. Bregman finished the regular season in a 6 for 53 (.113) slide, making him 16 for 96 (.167) in his last 25 games. He is slugging .281 in those 25 games. This has gone on a while now.
Altuve’s and Bregman’s importance to the offense is obvious. They’re dynamic high-contact hitters when at their best, and they also set the table for big Yordan Alvarez, who is on a monster tear this postseason. The Braves won’t mind pitching to Alvarez quite as much when Altuve and Bregman are slumping ahead of him, there’s not much traffic on the bases.
The good news: Altuve and Bregman are about to see a whole lot of left-handed pitchers, and both are historically better against lefties than righties. Max Fried, Atlanta’s Game 2 starter, is a lefty, and the Braves are likely to ask southpaws Drew Smyly and Tucker Davidson to chew up innings in Games 4-5. Minter and fellow go-to relievers Tyler Matzek and Will Smith are lefties too.
The Astros are so good they were able to beat the Red Sox (with a game to spare) and return to the World Series even with Altuve and Bregman not contributing much. At some point they need those two guys to contribute to the offense though. They’re too important and it’s difficult to see Houston winning the series without Altuve and Bregman making an impact along the way.