Astros drop third straight game

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 7-6 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With a surprising and disappointing series loss to the White Sox to start the week, Houston traveled to Oakland for a four-game weekend series against the A's to try and get back on track. Here is a recap from the series opener from Thursday night:

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 6.

Record: 78-44, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jake Diekman (1-6, 4.86 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chris Devenski (2-2, 4.42 ERA).

1) Pitcher's duel through the first three innings

The series opener got underway at a breakneck pace, with both former-Astro Mike Fiers and newly acquired Aaron Sanchez stacking three efficient innings. The two combined to get through the first three frames very quickly, taking just a total of 58 pitches to do so. The only hit over that span was a two-out single by Oakland allowed by Sanchez. However, the hits started coming in waves in the middle innings.

2) Alex Bregman starts the scoring

The top of the fourth looked to be another quick 1-2-3 inning where Mike Fiers would stay in control against the Astros. Instead, a two-out single by Michael Brantley brought Alex Bregman to the plate, and he connected on a line drive home run to start the scoring for the night and put Houston ahead 2-0.

That didn't just open up the hitting for Houston, as Oakland would respond immediately with a big inning of their own against Sanchez in the bottom of the fourth. He struggled in the inning, putting the first two runners on base to set up a go-ahead three-run home run to start the inning along with a solo home run later in the inning to extend Oakland's lead to 4-2.

Houston would work their way back to a tie with solo home runs by Carlos Correa in the fifth and Michael Brantley in the sixth, but Oakland quickly broke that tie in the bottom of the sixth. The A's launched their third and fourth home runs of the game against Sanchez with no outs in the inning, giving them a 6-4 lead.

Sanchez would get one more out before allowing two more baserunners prompting a call to the bullpen to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 4 HR.

3) Houston comes up just short

Hector Rondon took over for Aaron Sanchez in the bottom of the sixth and was able to erase two inherited runners to send the game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa trimmed Oakland's lead to one run by leading the inning off with his second home run of the night. Rondon returned for the bottom of the inning and kept the A's off the board, keeping the game at one run.

Michael Brantley would join Carlos Correa as Houston players with multi-home run games after a solo home run with one out in the top of the eighth tied the game 6-6. The balls kept flying out of the park, with Matt Chapman also having a multi-homer game for Oakland after a go-ahead solo shot off Chris Devenski in the bottom of the eighth.

Devenski would finish the bottom of the eighth, but Houston would come away empty in the top of the ninth, dropping the opener of the four-game series. The loss made it three straight for the Astros.

Up Next: Game two of this series will be Friday night with another west-coast starting time of 9:07 PM Central. Justin Verlander (15-4, 2.82 ERA) will get the ball for Houston and attempt to bounce back from a rough outing in his last start. Oakland is expected to start Tanner Roark (7-8, 4.06 ERA).

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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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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