Houston needs a win to advance

ALWC Game 2 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It took all nine innings, but the Astros rallied late and took Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and are in the driver's seat in this best-of-three series. They'll return to Target Field, home of the Twins, on Wednesday afternoon to try and get the win and advance to the ALDS. Here's what you need to know about Game 2:

Game Facts

When: Wednesday, 12:08 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ESPN 2

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Jose Urquidy+ vs. José Berríos.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Astros 4, Twins 1 Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Urquidy+ vs. Berríos
Game 3* Thu 10/1, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis McCullers Jr.+ vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Houston's offense has to get going earlier

The Twins' error in the ninth inning in Game 1 was a gift for the Astros that they were able to take advantage of and score the winning runs. It's unlikely to be handed another chance like that in the postseason, so in Game 2, it's paramount that Houston creates their own opportunities at the plate.

The good news is, every batter in the lineup was able to reach base in the first game, either by hit or walk. However, they would go 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine on base during the game. Because they can't expect to have two pitchers to combine for a one-run game on Wednesday, they will have to carry over the momentum from the end of Game 1 into Game 2 to build a lead their bullpen can carry.

Trust your arms to navigate through

Whether it's Jose Urquidy, who is the likely candidate, or anyone else who ends up starting Wednesday's game, the Astros have to be prepared to have a longer stretch of innings filled by their bullpen. Despite his struggles to end the regular season, Greinke did well only to allow one run to the Twins over his four innings in Game 1.

You should expect a similar outcome in Game 2, where hopefully your starter can hold the Twins at bay for as long as they can before needing to make the change to relievers. It will be interesting to see how Dusty Baker plays that situation, mostly dependent on the score at the time, as he could have someone like Cristian Javier come in for multiple innings. The only thing the Astros shouldn't do is fire too many of their bullets and put their chances in a potential Game 3 at risk.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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