Astros-Dodgers: LA dominates late, forces Game 7

Astros fans were dejected after Tuesday's loss. Bob Levey/Getty Images

There will be a Game 7 in the World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers were able to get rare runs off of Justin Verlander and backed it with great pitching to fight off elimination and force a winner-take-all game for the championship tomorrow night.

George Springer homers to give the Astros an early lead, but the Dodgers get two runs off of Justin Verlander with RBIs from Chris Taylor and Corey Seager in the sixth and add another off of Joe Musgrove with a solo home run from Joc Pederson in the seventh to beat the Astros 3-1 in Game 6.

Game 6 started with Rich Hill working around a one-out single by Alex Bregman by getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve and a groundout by Carlos Correa to end the top of the first. Justin Verlander had a quick bottom of the inning, retiring the Dodgers in order on seven pitches with a strikeout and two pop outs.

Things remained mostly quiet in the second. In the top of the inning, Hill was able to get a 1-2-3 inning with a fly out, foul out, and ground out. Verlander worked around a one-out single from Yasiel Puig in the bottom of the inning with a strikeout and fly out to keep the game scoreless going into the third.

In the top of the third, George Springer started the scoring with a two-out solo home run to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. Verlander worked well with the lead in the bottom half, getting two strikeouts and a groundout to end the inning and hold the 1-0 lead headed into the fourth.

Both pitchers combined for another quiet one in the fourth, making it a six up, six down inning including two more strikeouts for Verlander, bringing his total to seven as the Astros held on to their 1-0 lead after four.

Brian McCann led off the fifth with a single into right field off of Hill, then moved to third on a double by Marwin Gonzalez. They stayed put after two strikeouts by Hill, followed by an intentional walk to Springer to load the bases before the Dodgers called on their bullpen to bring out Brandon Morrow to face Bregman, who grounded out to end the Astros' threat. Verlander had another great inning in the bottom of the fifth, retiring the Dodgers in order on 11 pitches including another strikeout.

Brandon Morrow was back out in the top of the sixth and was able to get two outs before allowing a single to Yuli Gurriel, resulting in another call to the bullpen, this time for Tony Watson. Watson hit McCann to put runners on first and second, but both were stranded after a lineout by Gonzalez to end the half inning. The Dodgers got their second hit of the night from Austin Barnes to leadoff the bottom of the inning, followed by Verlander hitting Chase Utley with a ball in the dirt to put runners on first and second. Barnes would come around to score on an RBI double by Taylor to tie the game 1-1. The Dodgers would get their first lead of the night on a sac fly from Seager, making it a 2-1 game before Verlander was able to get out of the inning.

Josh Reddick worked a leadoff walk to start the seventh, ending Watson's night as the Dodgers brought in Kenta Maeda. Reddick was thrown out at second on a fielder's choice hit by Evan Gattis, then Gattis moved to second on a one-out single by Springer. Derek Fisher came in to pinch run for Gattis and moved to third tagging after a flyout by Bregman, but was stranded on a groundout by Altuve. Musgrove was first out of the Astros' bullpen in the bottom of the inning and allowed the Dodgers to extend their lead with a solo home run by Pederson to make it 3-1 before getting through the inning and sending the game into the eighth.

Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' closer, came in for the top of the eighth looking for a six-out save. The top of the eighth put it within reach for him after he retired the Astros in order on just seven pitches. Luke Gregerson went out to the mound for the bottom of the inning and allowed a leadoff single by Charlie Culberson who advanced to second on a groundout for out number one. Gregerson was able to get a strikeout but then walked Justin Turner, resulting in a call to bring in Francisco Liriano, who was able to get a strikeout for the final out of the inning.

Jansen completed the six-out save in the top of the ninth, getting two strikeouts and a pop out to end the game and get the save in the 3-1 victory.

Game 7: The Astros will once again play a Game 7, but this time it will be on the road in enemy territory. First pitch of Game 7 is scheduled for 7:20 PM Central tonight and can once again be seen on Fox. The Dodger's will start Yu Darvish, who the Astros were able to drive out early in Game 3 with a four-run second inning. The Astros have not yet named a starter but it will likely be Lance McCullers Jr. Of course, the starters will have short leashes as both teams will have nearly all their pitchers available for at least some amount of work in an attempt to do whatever it takes to win this ultimate decisive game.

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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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