Astros look to put pressure back on Rays after huge walk-off win

The Astros can even the series with a win on Friday. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Any idea that more pressure now sits on the Rays than the Astros heading into Friday's game six of the American League Championship Series, is of course silly. Only the Astros face elimination in game six. But the pressure scale sure is a lot more balanced than it was a couple of days ago.

If the Astros square it up and force a game seven, the starting pitchers would combine for quite a different game seven memory than the two already etched in Houston's sports memory forever. Lance McCullers would start opposite Charlie Morton.

Only half the job is done toward pulling off turning an 0-3 series deficit into a 4-3 victory. It is amazing that winning even the two games after trailing three-zip is a massive achievement. In the 37 prior baseball bests of seven that started 3-0, only the 2004 Red Sox wound up winning four straight to take the series. The Astros join the '04 Sox and just two others among the 38 shoved into the 0-3 hole to even force a game six. The two others lost game six: the Braves to the Padres in 1998 and the following year the Mets to the Braves.

Fox is rooting like mad for the Astros to pull it off. Given the alternatives the far and away most desirable World Series matchup for drawing eyeballs is Astros-Dodgers for the storyline (and two larger markets) of a rematch of the cheaters vs. cheatees 2017 Fall Classic. The Braves are in a strong position (up three games to one) to deny the Dodgers the NL end of the World Series stick.

As Carlos Correa continues to add layers to his huge postseason moments cake, reminder that he hit all of five homers in the 60 game regular season. He's at six (and counting?) in 11 postseason games this year.

Daryl Morey and the Rockets part ways

Daryl Morey working out a buyout of his contract with Rockets' owner Tilman Fertitta is quite the interesting development. Morey's 13 season tenure as General Manager was very good, but never achieved greatness. The Warriors' dynasty was a burr in Morey's saddle, but zero NBA Finals appearances much less an NBA championship precludes any stamp of greatness on Morey's run. That is a far cry from failure. Among highlights on the Morey ledger: Zero losing seasons, seven seasons winning at least 53 games, two Western Conference Finals appearances. No other NBA team has made the playoffs each of the last eight seasons. However, over those eight seasons six different teams won it all while the Rockets never played for it all.

Promoted from within, Rafael Stone will work as GM at a much lower salary than his predecessor. That's not breaking Fertitta's heart. Stone gets the keys (if he really has them) at a challenging time for the franchise. In an either/or scenario the Rockets are more likely to miss the playoffs in the next season or two than they are to win an NBA title. Who knows how 31-year-old James Harden and soon to be 32 year old Russell Westbrook will mesh with the new Head Coach. The Rockets are on the hook with each for more than 44 million dollars per season over the next three seasons. And with Eric Gordon for over 18 million per thanks to the absurd extension Morey granted him. The Rockets have zero good young players, defining that here as anyone who'd be thought of as a possible top three player on a title contender. Bubble violator Danuel House is closest and at 27 he's not young. That is not exciting. Morey has dealt away multiple first round picks going forward. So while Morey did a fine job overall, some piece in the jigsaw puzzle of his life and professional decision is getting out before things could seriously deteriorate.

Texans clash with Titans this Sunday

Beating the Jaguars in the first game after the firing of Bill O'Brien was nice and fun for the Texans but not exactly a grand accomplishment. The Jaguars are terrible. They have 16 rookies on their roster, and played last week minus their best pass rusher, linebacker, and cornerback. Still, any port in a storm. It's this week the Texans can breathe a little actual hope into this season should they upset the Titans Sunday in Nashville. The 4-0 Titans are only three point favorites. Seems low, but the Titans have a quick turn around from routing the Bills on Tuesday night.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Yogi Berra once said "90 percent of baseball is half mental." See Jose Altuve throwing the ball right now.

2. Yogi could have said "momentum is all yours until you don't have it." See Astros-Rays.

3. Most dramatic in the moment Astros' game ending home runs: Bronze-Correa game two vs. Yankees 2019 Silver-Jeff Kent game five vs. Cardinals 2004 Gold-Jose Altuve pennant winner over Yankees 2019

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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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