Astros thump Blue Jays in game one of three

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 4 hits from the 15-2 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With a day off on Thursday, the Astros were back at Minute Maid Park on Friday night to host a Father's Day weekend series with the Toronto Blue Jays. Gerrit Cole was on the mound for Houston hoping to repeat the success of his seven-inning fourteen-strikeout start he had last time out. Here's how the first game of the series went:

Final Score: Astros 15, Blue Jays 2.

Record: 47-23, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Gerrit Cole (6-5, 3.67 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Aaron Sanchez (3-8, 5.04 ERA).

1) Taking a commanding early lead, tacking on more late

After the Blue Jays loaded the bases in the top of the first and came away empty, the Astros would have no such problem, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first including a bases-loaded two-RBI single by Robinson Chirinos to start the scoring for the night. Josh Reddick was next up and provided a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-0 lead after one.

They kept scoring in the next two innings, getting a three-run home run from Alex Bregman in the bottom of the second to make it 6-0, then a two-run homer by Tony Kemp in the bottom of the third to extend the lead to 8-0.

Up 10-2 in the eighth inning, the Astros tacked on more runs for good measure, loading the bases before an RBI-walk from Yordan Alvarez followed immediately by a grand slam from Robinson Chirinos to make it a 15-2 Houston lead.

2) Alvarez goes 3 for 4 with a home run and RBI-walk

Yordan Alvarez made it three out of four games with a home run in the bottom of the fourth, launching a mammoth two-run dinger to make it a 10-0 lead after four innings. He also hit two singles, one in the bottom of the first then another in the bottom of the sixth. He'd get a chance for some more RBIs in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, but would have to settle for a walk to give him his third RBI of the night.

The home run made it three out of his first four games with a home run, the first to do so in Astros franchise history. The 3 RBIs in the game brought his total to 7 over four games, and he also increased his average to .385.

3) Cole with another double-digit strikeout start

Gerrit Cole encountered some trouble in the first inning, loading the bases after a hit batter, a walk, and a single, but would be able to get out of the trouble without allowing a run. He settled in after that, only faltering in the fifth by allowing a leadoff walk, one-out single, then a two-RBI double to Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Fame member Craig, to trim the large lead to 10-2.

Cole would still manage to complete six innings and record another double-digit strikeout inning with ten. His final line: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 K.

4) Armenteros makes his debut and finishes last three innings

With the eight-run lead, Gerrit Cole wasn't asked to extend himself past the sixth inning getting close to 100 pitches, so after the fourteen-inning affair on Wednesday night, the Astros went to the fresher arm of Rogelio Armenteros to make his MLB-debut in the top of the seventh.

Armenteros did well, working around a leadoff single in the seventh which was his only one of two hits allowed en route to three scoreless innings including three strikeouts.

Up Next: This series will continue tomorrow afternoon with the game starting at 3:10 PM. Framber Valdez (2-2, 2.73 ERA) will have the chance for another start on the mound for Houston and will go against Clayton Richard (0-2, 7.04 ERA) for Toronto.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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