The Astros’ constellation of stars continues to grow.
You know about Jose Altuve – everybody knows about Jose Altuve. The diminutive superstar is enjoying a sensational season at the keystone, batting over .360 and pacing the big leagues in Wins Above Replacement, per fangraphs.com.
You know about Carlos Correa. The 2015 Rookie of the Year was enjoying his finest season at the dish until he hit the disabled list in July. He’ll be back for the playoffs, where his powerful bat will strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitching staffs. (Oh, and he’s all of 22 years old.)
You know about George Springer. The prolific slugger has whacked 28 home runs in 2017, mostly from the leadoff spot. His rocket of an arm in right field keeps baserunners honest.
You know about Dallas Keuchel. The crafty left-handed ace has battled injury this year, but he’s been spectacular when healthy. His 10-2 record and 2.77 ERA in 15 starts prove that.
Then there’s the next tier of Houston players – the ones who are putting up star-caliber seasons without all the fanfare. After all, a single franchise can only have so many faces. You can find Lance McCullers Jr., Marwin Gonzalez, and Chris Devenski in this group. They’re all probably one more dominant season away from entering the national consciousness. Another player who has sneaked his way into this group? 23-year-old sophomore Alex Bregman.
For a player of his caliber, Bregman has flown surprisingly under the radar. When the Astros took him with the second overall selection of the 2015 MLB draft, they were already in possession of a dynamic minor league system, headlined by Correa, who had just burst onto the scene in the majors and was drawing national headlines. The ‘Stros were in the thick of a surprising playoff chase at the time, having finally gelled after years of patient rebuilding. Bregman was just another good prospect in a system full of such players.
To pass the time, Bregman obliterated minor league pitching at every stop he made. He didn’t have to toil on the farm for long. Just a year after being drafted – and after only 83 plate appearances above AA – the Astros summoned the infielder to the big leagues and installed him at the hot corner. He appeared in 49 games for the ‘Stros in 2016, batting .264 and amassing 8 home runs while turning in above-average work with his glove. A remarkable debut, considering the fact that he was only a year removed from playing college ball, but one that was overshadowed by a disappointing season for the big league club.
Bregman started slow in 2017, struggling to a mediocre .256/.338/.419 batting line before the All-Star Break. This time, he was lucky – the lackluster start was overshadowed by a sensational season for the rest of the team. But as the second half of the season began, the Astros started to struggle. They lost several key players to injury, and have yet to rediscover the dominating form they exhibited through their first three-and-a-half months.
They say there’s always a silver lining. For Houston, it’s that Alex Bregman has thrived in the midst of all the losing, right when the team needed somebody to step up. Since the start of the second half, Bregman is batting a ridiculous .313/.395/.589 – numbers that would have him the thick of the MVP race if they held up for a full season. Of his 35 hits after the All-Star Break, 17 have gone for extra bases. He has drawn a walk (14) more often than he has struck out (11). Just for good measure, he’s added 5 stolen bases, as well. In short, he’s been once of the best players in baseball for over a month.
It’s an encouraging sign for Houston fans – Bregman has made his first move in the career-long chess match between hitters and pitchers. He’s showed an ability to adjust, adapt, improve. He’s caught up to major league fastballs, pulling a full 50% of his balls in play in the second half.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that pitchers will adjust back – they always do. They’ll start throwing Bregman different pitches, in a different order, to different parts of the strike zone. They’ll test his bat for weakness, searching for a hole in his swing to mercilessly exploit. When they do, Bregman will have to adjust once again. The chess match will continue. But for now, the young third baseman has the upper hand. He’s accrued 2.4 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs – seventh-best among his Astros teammates. But that number would rate as second-best if Bregman played for the division-rival Oakland Athletics. It’s safe to imagine that he won’t remain in the shadow of his teammates for much longer.
Offense Flies High, Runs Dry In Desert
The Astros split their four-game home-and-away series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in unusual fashion. Houston was shut out in game one, scored nine runs in game two, followed that with another nine-run performance in game three, then was shut out once more in game four. The bats will try to find some consistency when they welcome the Oakland A’s to town for three games starting Friday.
Dallas Keuchel takes the mound for the ‘Stros, fresh off a dominant start against the Texas Rangers. The A’s will counter with talented youngster Sean Manaea. Keuchel will rock and fire his first pitch at 7:10 Central – tickets are available here.