Astros make it back-to-back walk-off wins

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 4 hits from the 6-5 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Fresh off of their desperately-needed walk-off win on Friday night, the Astros hosted the Mariners for game two of the three-game weekend series which was televised nationally on FOX. Here is a quick recap of the game:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 5.

Record: 52-32, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Chris Devenski (2-0, 4.58 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Roenis Elias (2-1, 3.55 ERA).

1) Exciting second inning

With the recent offensive struggles for Houston, Seattle taking a 2-0 lead on a home run off of Justin Verlander in the top of the second inning looked like a big blow to the Astros' chances in the game. However, they'd respond with a huge inning in the bottom half to resurrect their offensive momentum.

Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel worked back-to-back walks to start the bottom of the second, then with one out Josh Reddick induced an infield error which allowed Brantley to score, trimming the lead to 2-1. Jake Marisnick was up next and gave Houston their first lead of the night with a two-RBI double. George Springer would extend the lead with a one-out RBI-single, then Jose Altuve would score one more to make it 5-2 with a sacrifice fly. The Astros would send nine batters to the plate in the successful inning.

2) Verlander needed all he could get

It was a good thing for Justin Verlander that his offense backed him up with that five-run third inning because he would need all five of them. After the two-run home run he allowed in the second, he'd also let Seattle get runners on second and third with no outs in the third, but was able to limit them to just one run that inning.

With the lead still 5-3 in the fifth, he'd allow yet another home run, a solo shot to get the Mariners within one at 5-4. After the long and stressful innings that led to that point, A.J. Hinch would not try to extend him past his 100 pitch count, going to the bullpen in the sixth. Verlander's final line: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 2 HR.

3) Bullpen tasked with another long outing

With Verlander's night over surprisingly short, it was up to Houston's relievers to preserve their one-run lead. Hector Rondon was first out of the bullpen but would only be able to record two outs while walking two batters before being lifted in favor of Will Harris who would finish off the inning.

Ryan Pressly would take over in the seventh, instead of his usual role as the eighth inning set up, and after two outs would see the game tied on a solo home run by Seattle. Collin McHugh was next to pitch the top of the eighth, and he looked great yet again out of the bullpen since his return from injury, striking out all three batters he faced.

Roberto Osuna was brought in for the ninth to try and keep the game tied and set up back-to-back walk-off wins for Houston. He was able to get through the inning by retiring the Mariners in order.

4) Gurriel does it in extras again

With the game still tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, the Astros had the top of their order up to try and win the game. George Springer nearly hit the winning home run on to straightaway center to lead off the inning but came up just a few feet short. They'd come up empty in the inning, resulting in back-to-back nights with extra innings.

Chris Devenski was the next reliever out for Houston, and he was able to work around a two-out single to give his team another chance at the walk-off. Michael Brantley, on his jersey giveaway night, started the bottom of the tenth off with a single. He moved to second on a wild pitch, then scored on an RBI-double from Yuli Gurriel, making it back-to-back nights with game-winning hits.

Up Next: The series finale between these two teams will take place tomorrow at 1:10 PM. Seattle will send Marco Gonzalez (9-6, 4.34 ERA) to the mound while Houston will start Gerrit Cole (7-5, 3.42 ERA). Cole (151 strikeouts) will have a chance to regain the top spot in the league in strikeouts if he can catch and pass Max Scherzer (156) who also pitches on Sunday.

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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