Los Angeles takes first of two games against Houston

Tensions high as Dodgers ride big inning to win against Astros

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In a rematch of the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers arrived in Houston on Tuesday for the first of two games at Minute Maid Park. As expected, the rivalry found itself rekindled in an exciting matchup. Here is a quick recap:

Final Score: Dodgers 5, Astros 2.

Record: 3-2, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brusdar Graterol (1-1, 3.86 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (0-1, 4.15 ERA).

Correa drives in the first two runs

After both Framber Valdez and Walker Buehler recorded 1-2-3 first innings, they would not have as clean second innings. In the top of the second, Valdez allowed his first baserunner via a two-out walk, then allowed a single, but was able to get out of the inning unscathed. Buehler also had a two-out issue, a Carlos Correa solo home run, which put Houston ahead 1-0.

Correa would drive in another run in the bottom of the fourth, getting an RBI-single to bring in Michael Brantley, who had singled earlier in the inning, doubling the lead to 2-0 and ending Buehler's night.

Dodgers roar back with a five-run fifth

Valdez was still on the mound in the fifth, but after loading the bases in the fifth would be taken out as Enoli Paredes would enter with one out and the bases still full. Paredes would struggle, walking in a run, seeing another come in on an error by Alex Bregman to tie the game, then giving up back-to-back RBI-singles to put Los Angeles up 4-2.

Andre Scrubb would come in to make his MLB debut and hopefully stop the damage, but instead issued a four-pitch walk to walk in another run before getting a double play to end the half-inning, making it a 5-2 deficit for Houston.

Benches clear in the sixth

Scrubb would do much better in his first full inning, retiring the Dodgers in order in the top of the sixth, including two strikeouts. In the bottom of the inning, the Dodgers would send Joe Kelly to the mound, who was clearly out to send a message to the Astros.

After throwing a ball four well behind Alex Bregman, interfering with Michael Brantley's path to first base on a groundball, he would get a strikeout to retire the Astros, then entice a bench-clearing confrontation by antagonizing Houston on his way back to the dugout.

Astros can't answer, Dodgers get the win

Scrubb continued in the seventh and despite loading the bases was able to complete the inning and keep it a three-run game. Nivaldo Rodriguez was yet another Houston reliever to make an MLB debut, and he was able to work around a couple of hits to record a scoreless top of the eighth.

Rodriguez continued pitching in the top of the ninth and was able to erase a few runners for another scoreless inning. The Astros would be unable to add on to Correa's two runs earlier in the game, resulting in a loss and moving them to 3-2 on the season.

Up Next: Game two of this two-game set will get underway at 6:00 PM Wednesday. The Astros have still not named their starter, and will likely rely on a young or newly acquired arm to start or go with a bullpen day, while the Dodgers will have Dustin May on the mound.

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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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