ATLANTA– After another ice cold showing from the Houston Astros offense on Saturday night, we all began to ponder out loud if Dusty’s chance at a World Series had once again slipped through his hands.
Dusty didn’t offer any excuses for the situation, but instead reiterated the faith he has in his ballclub. That faith was rewarded Sunday night, as the Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves 9-5 to force this series back to Houston for Game 6.
The Braves jumped out to a four-run, first inning lead thanks to a two-out grand slam by Adam Duvall. But unlike Saturday, the Astros were able to respond early and often.
“I was trying to figure out a way how we can chip away and get back in that game,” Baker told Ken Rosenthal on FOX TV after the victory. “But mostly, trying to figure out how to keep it at four.”
The Braves would add one additional run, but once Dusty went to his bullpen, Atlanta was held scoreless for 6 ⅔ innings.
Feeble Bats Wake Up
But there were still runs to score, and the Astros hadn’t been able to do much in that department since Game 2. Now when looking to explain such a drastic shift in offensive output, you need to look no further than the lineup.
With his team on the brink of elimination, Dusty dropped third baseman Alex Bregman to seventh and ran with his hottest six hitters at the top of the lineup. Armed with a new batting order, the Astros were able to do something we haven’t seen from them since they dismantled the Boston Red Sox last round; score runs in bunches.
The Astros scored two in the second and third, three in the fifth and two more insurance runs to end Atlanta’s postseason home win streak at eight games.
“Carlos swung the bat great, we got a big double outta Bregman and so I’m just glad we get to take it back to Houston,” said an excited Baker.
“That was our goal today, to get it back to Houston and it’s just one game at a time now.”
The way both managers handle the bullpen will be important in the final two games of this series. The key to an Astros win, however, lies in the bats. The Astros core players — from Altuve to Correa to Brantley — have to pound their way to the title, which won’t be an easy task.
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Dusty Baker is proving to be the Master Technician in this ALCS. The veteran manager and baseball lifer has given the middle finger to the metrics (letting his pitchers rock out) and relied on his decades of knowledge in leading the Houston Astros to a commanding 3-2 series lead over the Boston Red Sox.
According to reports, Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley resumed baseball activities on Sunday for the first time since being placed on the 10-day injury list for knee soreness, retroactive to September 11.
After watching him swing the bat and get in some glove work, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker spoke to the media on Sunday and gave an informative declaration for the 2021 all-star opt-out. Baker told Mark Berman of Fox 26 that Brantley is coming along pretty good.
He said, “We miss Brantley. The other guys have been doing a good job, but we miss Michael Brantley. He is a quality player, (a) quality defensive player who adds balance to our lineup with another lefty because you know we are right-handed strong right now. You don’t know how much you miss a guy until he is gone.”
Brantley traveled to Anaheim for a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels yesterday. Although the timetable for his return isn’t exact, the earliest he could be activated is Wednesday, September 22.
The 34-year-old has a long history of injuries dating back to his days in Cleveland; Before this stint, he spent 15 days on the IL earlier this season with some hamstring discomfort. Besides that, with the Astros, he’s been relatively healthy.
Brantley is still hunting the American League batting crown with a little over 10 games remaining as he is ranked second in votes behind Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
To qualify for the batting title, a player must make at least 502 at-bats. The big-league outfielder posted an average of .315 at the plate with an on-base percentage of .367 and a .441 slugging percentage in 493 plate appearances.
Baker indicated to the Houston Chronicle that Brantley’s return would come into play when he regains his pro form as Sunday was the first time, he swung a bat since he sustained the initial injury.
Baker implied, “It is a matter of communication when you talk to (Brantley). At this point in your career, you know yourself, and you know what it feels like to have your act together. Some guys get it quickly, and some guys, it takes a long time. Some guys never lose it. That is rare. So, we will see.”
In an era that places emphasis on slugging percentage, exit velocity and several other metrics meant to enhance run production, there are many who question the importance of a high batting average.
Despite these recent naysayers, MLBbros like Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson continue to show the value of having a batting champion in the lineup.
On Friday, both Brantley and Anderson, along with fellow MLBbro Cedric Mullins, held three of the top five spots for batting average in the American League.
By Saturday it was a completely different story.
With less than 20 games to go, will any of the bros be able to catch Starling Marte for the batting crown?
Cedric Mullins has been killing all season in a Baltimore Orioles lineup that doesn’t afford him much protection. He’s on his way to a 30-30 season despite playing on a team void of superstar talent.
While winning the crown would be dope, this late season stretch represents more than a batting title for Anderson and Brantley.
Both of their teams are in first place and with each team’s magic number under 20, the only scoreboard watching necessary will involve each other.
The Tampa Bay Rays currently hold a 5-game lead in the American League, which means at this point the Astros and White Sox are battling for second.
The Astros are 5-2 against the White Sox this season, so in order to secure that second spot, the White Sox will need to make up some ground on Houston.
Unfortunately for Chicago, Anderson has been mostly unavailable in September. After racking up 10 hits, 5 RBI and hitting an impressive .323 over his last 7 games played, Anderson was placed on the IL with what has been described as hamstring soreness.
Anderson’s presence has been missed at the top of the lineup, as the team has struggled to score runs against quality opponents at times.
Over their last five games as of Saturday, the White Sox have hit just .250 (9-for-36) with runners in scoring position.
Even with his team struggling to score and his average sliding in the ranks, Anderson remains focused on the main goal; a deep run in October.