Astros drop series opener against the Cardinals

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 5-3 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After closing out their recent homestand by winning a rubber game against the A's on Wednesday afternoon, the Astros took to the road to start a six-game stretch as visitors. First up was a weekend series against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Here is how the opener went:

Final Score: Cardinals 5, Astros 3.

Record: 66-39, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Andrew Miller (4-4, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (2-2, 2.03 ERA).

1) Correa is back

Friday night's game ended the Astros' 50-game stretch without their starting shortstop, Carlos Correa. He was back on the field and in the lineup for the series opener, and he saw some action right away defensively, fielding a few groundballs and showing off his arm strength for a few throws to first.

He would not generate the first highlight on offense, though, as that honor would go to Michael Brantley. After a one-out walk by Alex Bregman, Brantley took advantage by launching a two-run homer to put Houston on the board and in front 2-0.

2) Another quality start for Urquidy

Jose Urquidy, who had a surprisingly good seven-inning one-run start against the Rangers his last time on the mound, provided an excellent follow-up against the surging Cardinals. He allowed just one run, which came in the fourth inning after he allowed three singles in what would be his worst inning of the night.

Otherwise, he was efficient and avoided too many high-leverage situations. He went on to complete six innings while allowing just the one run, making it back-to-back quality starts. Urquidy's final line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0 HR.

3) Houston's bullpen unable to hold up

Unfortunately, though Urquidy would leave in position for the win, Will Harris would allow a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the seventh. Harris would complete that inning, then would be pinch-hit for by Yordan Alvarez who drilled a one-out double to put Houston in scoring position.

They went on to load the bases with two outs, bringing up Michael Brantley who notched his third RBI of the night, a walk to bring in the go-ahead run. Correa was up next with the bases still loaded but would strikeout to leave all three runners stranded.

Ryan Pressly was next out of Houston's bullpen, but he would have a forgetful inning. He allowed two baserunners then a three-run homer to lead off the inning and give the Cardinals their first lead of the night at 5-3. He would exit without recording an out with Chris Devenski coming in to replace him.

Devenski worked around a walk and a single to get through the eighth, sending the two-run game to the ninth. In the ninth, Houston would not be able to make a comeback, starting the series with a loss.

Up Next: Game two of this series between the Astros and Cardinals will be tomorrow at 6:15 PM and will be nationally televised on FS1. The pitching matchup will be MLB strikeout leader Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.03 ERA) for Houston going against Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.82 ERA) for St. Louis.

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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