Springer had two homers Sunday

Springer helps lift Astros to series win over D-backs

Photo by Bob Levey / Getty Images

With a win on Saturday to tie the series 1-1, the Astros took the field at Minute Maid Park for the last time of 2020 on Sunday. A victory would give them the series against Arizona and move them one step closer to securing one of the two playoff spots for the AL West's highest-record finishing duo. Here are the quick highlights from Sunday's rubber game:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 27-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-1, 2.41 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-2, 3.04 ERA).

Urquidy goes six while allowing two runs

After three scoreless innings on both sides, Arizona would start the scoring in the top of the fourth. They would load the bases with no outs against Jose Urquidy, getting back-to-back singles to start the frame before Urquidy issued a walk. He would get out of the jam with just one run allowed, though, thanks to a timely double play and a flyout to end the inning.

The D-backs ambushed Urquidy in the top of the fifth, getting a leadoff solo homer to double their lead to 2-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings while allowing just the two runs. His final line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 90 P.

Springer takes it into his own hands

After tagging him with eight runs on August 4th in Arizona, the Astros were unable to figure out Madison Bumgarner on Sunday, going scoreless over his five innings on the mound. They went to work against Arizona's bullpen in the bottom of the sixth, starting with a near-conventional homerun turned inside-the-park homer for George Springer to start the inning, cutting the lead in half 2-1.

They went on to load the bases with two outs but would strand all three runners to keep it a one-run game heading to the seventh. Andre Scrubb was first out of Houston's bullpen and had a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. In the bottom of the seventh, Springer tied the game with his second homer in as many innings, this time over the right-field fence, making it 2-2.

Astros grab the late lead, take the series

Scrubb would retire one more batter, getting a groundout to start the top of the eighth before Houston moved on to Blake Taylor to face the top of Arizona's order. He would keep it a tie game, working around a two-out infield single to end the inning.

Houston would get the go-ahead run in scoring position in the bottom of the eighth, with Alex Bregman getting hit by a pitch then moving to second on a walk to Michael Brantley. They'd go on to load the bases with another walk and one out, setting up a go-ahead sac fly by Carlos Correa to take a 3-2 lead.

That presented another chance for a save for Ryan Pressly, which he would notch as the Astros would take the final two games of the three-game set to win the series. The win moved them up to 27-26 on the year, keeping them a leg up on the Mariners for second place in the AL West.

Up Next: Seven games remain in Houston's regular season, all on the road, with a three-game series in Seattle against the Mariners and then a four-game set in Arlington against the Rangers. The opener in Seattle will get underway at 8:10 PM Central on Monday and features the pitching matchup of Marco Gonzalez (6-2, 3.49 ERA) for the Mariners and Lance McCullers Jr. (3-2, 4.87 ERA) for the Astros.

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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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