WORLD CUP WATCH GUIDE

Where to watch the World Cup: 13 Houston bars and restaurants that love the beautiful game

Watch the World Cup with Brian Ching at Pitch 25. Courtesy of Pitch 25

Eric Sandler is food editor of CultureMap/Houston. This article originally appeared on that site.

Even though the United States isn’t in the tournament, Houstonians are coming down with a full blown case of World Cup Fever. Given the city’s diversity, it’s no surprise that people will be rooting for the countries their families immigrated from or just cheering on favorite stars.

Of course, a number of Houston bars and restaurants are catering to Cup fans with special menus and, more importantly, special hours. With the games taking place across Russia, most matches are kicking off in the morning — one as early as 5 am. This guide notes which places are opening early.

After all, there’s nothing like stumbling into work a little late with beer breath after catching a 7 am tilt between Sweden and South Korea.

 

La Calle
The downtown taco joint and its companion cantina will be open for all of the matches with plenty of good viewing angles than to its 75 and 85-inch TVs. World Cup specials include $3.99 paleta shots, $4 draft beers, $5 frozen Chamoyritas, and $8 bowls of menudo. Fans can also expect merchandise giveaways courtesy of Soccer4All. Best of all, those who spend at least $20 earn free parking in the garage at 805 Franklin Street. 909 Franklin St.

Pitch 25 Beer Park
In keeping with the spirit of its co-owner Brian Ching, the newly opened beer garden and soccer bar will open as early as 7 am for World Cup matches. Dine on a special breakfast menu while sipping on beer or wine from the 100 taps. Group reservations are also available. Pitch 25 will also celebrate the start of the World Cup Wednesday night with a special four-on-four soccer tournament on its indoor pitch. 2120 Walker St.

The Gorgeous Gael
As the official watch spot for ESPN 97.5’s weekly show Soccer Matters, the Rice Village bar will be open for all World Cup matches with a full menu of food, drinks, and beer. 5555 Morningside Dr.

The Richmond Arms Pub
The venerable English pub will open early for all matches, including the 5 am tilt between France and Australia, with a special breakfast menu. As always, no cover charge to watch the matches. See Facebook for the full schedule. 5920 Richmond Ave.

Harold’s in the Heights
The popular bar and restaurant will open its downstairs tap room as early as 7 am for matches airing Tuesday through Sunday. In addition, it will offer a range of drink and food specials including happy hour pricing on beer during all matches, $5 Lunazel tequila and Benchmark whiskey, $7 pours of top shelf products including Elijah Craig bourbon, Larceny whiskey, Roxor gin, and Nine Banded whiskey, as well as $5 frozens made with Deep Eddy products. Daily specials (such as $4 Saint Arnold drafts and cans on Wednesday and Saturdays), food specials tied to different countries (such as fish and chips for the June 24 match between England and Panama), and swag giveaways all help make Harold’s a compelling destination for Heights-area soccer fans. 350 W. 19th St.

The Phoenix on Westheimer
The Montrose-area sports bar will be open for all matches with TVs both inside and out. See the full schedule on Facebook1915 Westheimer Rd.

Revelry on Richmond
The popular Montrose sports bar will feature World Cup matches on its 30 TVs. For select matches such as Germany versus Mexico, Revelry will open at 10 am; on those days, it will start happy hour with $5 select drinks and $6 select appetizers. To kick off the festivities, the bar will host a Playstation 4 FIFA tournament on Wednesday night with prizes to the top three players. 1613 Richmond Ave.

The Branch
Spring Branch's favorite craft beer spot is opening early for select matches, starting with 9 am on Thursday, June 14 for Russia versus Saudi Arabia; 1 pm on Friday, June 15 for Portugal versus Spain; 8 am on Saturday, June 16 for Argentina versus Iceland; and 10 am on Sunday, June 17 for Germany versus Mexico. See the complete schedule on Facebook. Also, co-owner Kyle Pierson notes that he'll open for any of the other matches if a group is interested in hosting watch parties there. Contact The Branch for details. 7710 Long Point Rd.

El Big Bad
The downtown Mexican restaurant and tequila bar will open early for select World Cup matches, starting with 10 am on Friday, June 15 and Sunday, June 17 and 1 pm June 18 through 21; see Facebook for the complete schedule. Those wearing gear from their favorite national teams — even the U.S.A. — may purchase house margaritas for only $5. 419 Travis Street

Latin Bites
The acclaimed Peruvian restaurant will be showing most of the matches and will open early on weekends or for matches where Peru is competing. Happy hour specials, including $6 wells, $5 glasses of wine, $3 beers, and half-off appetizers, are available from 2:30 to 6:30 pm Monday through Saturday. See website for complete schedule. 5709 Woodway Dr.

Nick’s Place
The West Houston institution will open at 7 am Friday through Sunday for World Cup matches. During the week, Nick’s opens at 11 am. By reputation, the calzones are to die for. 2713 Rockyridge Dr.

Eight Row Flint
Agricole Hospitality’s bar devoted to whiskey, beer, and tacos will open at 1 pm (one hour early) to show matches that kick off at that time. Happy hour specials include $3 tacos, $3 select beers, and $3 select house cocktails. 1039 Yale St.

Pluckers Wing Bar
The wing joint will open early for Mexico’s matches — 9:45 am on June 17 and 23 and 8:45 am on June 27 — with $1 off its 34-ounce drafts of Dos Equis. In addition, Pluckers Club members can compete for the opportunity to win $2,500 by correctly picking the tournament’s final four teams. Four Houston-area locations; see website for details.

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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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