McCullers, Peacock combine for 5-3 win; Astros lead series 2-1

Yuli Gurriel had a big night for the Astros. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Astros returned home to Minute Maid Park and took advantage of an early offensive explosion to edge out the Dodgers in Game 3 and take a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

Yuli Gurriel homered, followed by RBIs from Marwin Gonzalez, Brian McCann, and Alex Bregman as the Astros jump all over Yu Darvish in the second inning, ending his night early and riding the early lead to a 5-3 victory in World Series Game 3. Lance McCullers pitched a decent start and was followed by Brad Peacock who finished with a strong three and two-thirds inning relief appearance to seal the win.

McCullers started Game 3 with a pop out of Chris Taylor for the first out of the game. McCullers got the next two batters on a groundout and long flyout near the wall in center field by Justin Turner. George Springer led off the bottom of the inning with a double to right-center off of Yu Darvish but was unable to score as Darvish fought back to retire the next three Astros in order to end the scoreless inning.

The big inning was the second. Logan Forsythe recorded the first hit for the Dodgers in the top of the second with a two-out single but was stranded as Lance McCullers got a groundout to end the half inning. Gurriel gave the Astros the lead in the bottom of the inning, putting the first run on the board with a solo home run to the Crawford Boxes off of Darvish, making it 1-0 Houston. Josh Reddick followed with a double into the left-field corner, followed by a walk to Evan Gattis, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Gonzalez added to the Astros' lead with an RBI single off the left-center wall, making it a 2-0 game. McCann was next up and added another no-out run, hitting a single into right-center to make it 3-0. Bregman added one more, scoring Gonzalez from third on a one-out sac fly, extending the lead again to 4-0. Jose Altuve was the eighth batter of the inning and hit a two-out double to put runners on second and third, and prompted a call to the bullpen to end Darvish's brief, rough night. Kenta Maeda entered the game for the Dodgers and was able to get the third out to end the four-run inning.

McCullers struggled to start the top of the third, walking the first three batters to load the bases with no outs. He battled back from it, though, getting a double play which scored a run to make it a 4-1 game, then a groundout for the third out to get out of the jam with just one run. Kenta Maeda worked around a two-out walk of Gattis in the bottom of the inning to end the inning and send the game to the fourth.

In the top of the fourth, McCullers rebounded from the rough third inning to get a quick half inning thanks to Yasiel Puig being thrown out at second trying to advance after a single got past Bregman into left field. Maeda allowed a leadoff single to McCann in the bottom half but then retired the next three in order to end the inning.

McCullers allowed a one-out double to Joc Pederson in the top of the fifth but was able to strand him after some stellar defense behind him to get the next two outs. Maeda got the leadoff out in the bottom of the inning, then was pulled as the Dodgers moved on to Tony Watson from the bullpen. Reddick hit a two-out single, then came all the way around to score as Watson made an errant throw to first on a ground ball from Gattis, extending the Astros' lead to 5-1 before Watson was able to end the inning.

In the top of the sixth, Lance McCullers allowed a leadoff walk to Corey Seager who then moved to third on a no-out double by Justin Turner. McCullers struck out the next batter before A.J. Hinch made the call to the bullpen to bring out Brad Peacock. Peacock allowed a run to score on a groundout for the second out, then another to score on a wild pitch, making it a 5-3 game before Peacock could end the half inning. Tony Watson recorded the first out of the bottom of the inning before the Dodgers went to their bullpen again, this time for Brandon Morrow. Morrow ended up with runners on first and second with one out after an error by Justin Turner and walk to Bregman, but was able to leave them there by getting back-to-back strikeouts of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to leave the game at 5-3 going into the seventh.

Peacock returned to the mound for the top of the seventh and worked around a two-out walk of Andre Ethier to get through the half inning and preserve the 5-3 lead. Gurriel led off the bottom of the inning with a double off the scoreboard wall, prompting another pitching change for Los Angeles, bringing in Tony Cingrani. Cingrani was able to get two outs around an intentional walk of Gattis before McCann reached on an infield single to load the bases with two outs, resulting in yet another call to the Dodgers' bullpen, this time to bring out Ross Stripling, who was able to get Springer to fly out to the center field wall to end the inning.

Peacock pitched his best inning to that point in the top of the eighth, getting a 1-2-3 inning including two strikeouts to put the Astros 3 outs away from the win. Ross Stripling was able to work around a two-out single by Correa in the bottom of the inning to send the 5-3 game to the ninth inning.

A.J. Hinch, much like in Game 7 of the ALCS, allowed the hot hand to stay in the game, sending Peacock back out for the top of the ninth. It proved to be the right call as Peacock sat down the Dodgers in order to wrap up the Game 3 win.

Game 4: First pitch of Game 4 from Minute Maid Park is scheduled for 7:20 PM Central tonight and can be seen on FOX. The Astros will send Charlie Morton to the mound who had an amazing start in Game 7 of the ALCS giving up just two hits and no runs in five innings of work. The Dodgers are likely to send out Alex Wood who despite a terrific 16-3 regular season has only made one playoff start in which he went four and two-thirds innings while giving up 3 runs in a 3-2 loss to the Cubs in the NLDS.

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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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