The Astros four-game sweep of the Oakland A’s was the ultimate YIE series. YIE stands for Yes It’s Early, and certainly, in a 162-game season, it may not mean much. Still, the team’s performance was everything any Astro fan could ask against the team that took the AL West away from the Astros last season and houses the man who went Judas on his former teammates, Mike Fiers.
There are a lot of things to take away from this series…..
- The Big Man is Back, and I Don’t Mean Clarence Clemons. Yordan Alvarez only played in two games in 2020 before going down with the knee injury that led to surgery. After his transcendent season in 2019, it almost made it feel like a hallucination. Did we really see what we saw? Well, after four games back, two doubles, a home run and six RBIs, it was wonderful to see him and that smooth, powerful swing back in the lineup.
- The Not So Big Men are Back. Jose Altuve, who suffered through his worst season ever in 2020, has embraced that leadoff spot, hitting .375 BA and getting on base half the time, leading to a wonderful 8 runs scored in the first 4 games. Alex Bregman is getting a hit half the time and already has two HRs, five RBIs and four runs scored even though he only played in three games. Yuli Gurriel leads the team with 7 hits, tied for the lead with 4 walks and has the top OBP at .579 (for those with enough ABs to qualify). Seeing both Altuve and Gurriel drawing walks is a good sign.
- The Exception. The one guy who has the most to earn by playing well is one of the few who has not played well, Carlos Correa. So far, he is only threatening to lead the team in one category (five Ks).
- The Machine. Until he was taken out by a Hit by Pitch Saturday, Michael Brantley in two games and that AB, where he was hit, had six hits in nine ABs including four doubles, and frankly, two of his three outs were on balls that were slaughtered. He looked as locked in as you will ever find a hitter.
- 2020 Is Not in the Rear View Mirror. The team seems way beyond putting 2020 in the rearview mirror. They seem to be more in denial that 2020 ever took place or that they were involved. 2020 is locked away in a safety deposit box.
- A little YIE Reality. Just remember that in 2020 the Astros were 3-1 after four games after playing the Mariners and that Brantley had 6 RBIs after 4 games, Altuve had 7 runs after 4 games, Bregman had 5 RBIs after 4 games, Yuli had three runs and two RBIs after four games and Tucker had four runs after four games.
- Mr. RBI. OK, he got a gift in the “RBI” on Jose Altuve’s mad dash to the plate on his popup in game 2. But Kyle Tucker continues to knock in the runs for this team even though he is still hitting below the Mendoza line. In 2020, he led the team with 42 RBIs (George Springer was second with 32). This year despite only having three hits, he leads the team with seven RBIs. Amazing.
- A Bit of Bungling. In 2020, the Astros only had 20 errors in 60 games. They have been a bit more slippery fingers so far this season with three errors in four games. Hopefully, the two on opening day were just an anomaly that will not be the norm.
- A Solid Base. While lasting varying amounts of time, each of their four starters have kept the team in each game or better…. a whole lot better for a couple of them. Zack Greinke (6 IP / 0 ER) and Lance McCullers Jr. (5 IP / 1 ER) were the gold standards in this regard, while Jose Urquidy (4.1 IP / 2 ER) and Cristian Javier (3.2 IP / 2 ER) kept them in games 3 and 4.
- They Also Serve Who Don’t Start. Brandon Bielak pitched good enough in the spring to nab the temporary fifth starter’s job given to Luis Garcia. Did he mope over that? Nope, he came out of the bullpen with a scary look on his face in Game 4 and retired 14 straight batters to earn the win. Bryan Abreu threw 2.1 scoreless innings out of the pen to secure a win for the team and himself in Game 3.
- Lefties on Lefties. In the past, the appearance of three left-handed starting pitchers (and multiple relievers) against the Astros might result in less than optimum results. The Astros overall ate them up, and it was very heartening to see some of the terrific at bats by Brantley, Tucker, Alvarez and Jason Castro against the left-handed pitchers in this series.
- By the Numbers. The Astros have never started a season 4-0 on the road before this year. The four-game win streak would already be the second-longest for the team through the beginning of 2020 as they had one 8 game winning streak last year, but no other streak beyond 2 games in a row (which is how you end up 29-31). The Astros have scored at least 8 runs in four consecutive games. In 2020 they scored 8 runs or more in two games in a row a couple times. In their club-record regular season in 2019, they scored 8 runs or more in four games in a row twice.
- Plop Plop Fizz Fizz. The Astro relievers were not all perfect, but they did limit the damage when they came in. Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, Enoli Paredes, Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu all gave up no earned runs in a combined 8 appearances. And even Brooks Raley, who had a rough go in Game 2, came into a mess in Game 3 and held the rope on the A’s late in the game.
- Big Finish. Too often in the past, the Astros seemed to get leads and just never added to them. In game one, they scored five times in the eighth and ninth. In game two, they scored three times in the ninth, in game three, they scored four times in the ninth and in game four, they scored four times in the sixth to salt each of these games away and discourage the A’s.
- Ks and BBs. After four games, the Astros offense has struck out 27 times which is the fifth-best in the AL, but the 4 teams ahead of them have only played three games, and they will likely be second best when all is even. The team is putting the ball in play. The Astro pitchers have only given up 13 walks so far, which is eighth-best in the AL, but again all the teams that have given up less have played only 3 games, so they would be closer to third-best in the league if this were evened out.
- Flat vs Fun. After a Spring Training where the Astros looked like as much fun as an Ingmar Bergman movie, they looked like they were having a ton of fun out there in this series. Not over the top stuff, but they looked like baseball was fun, like it was never fun in 2020. The A’s looked flat like all the steam was taken out of them by continuing the flattening they took in last year’s playoffs.
- Newbie. Have to give a shout out to Chas McCormick, who had to come in for the hottest hitter, Michael Brantley, when he was hit on the wrist early Saturday night. The young man held his own, nearly getting a homer on his first major league hit (a double) in Game 3 and then hitting a no-doubter three-run homer in Game 4 to seal that one for the home team.
- Hitting both ways. It was fun watching a number of the hitters go the other way when the pitch warranted it. It was not fun seeing them get plunked (and the plunking cheered on) four times in the series. The Brantley HBP brought back memories of Jeff Bagwell having season’s derailed by getting hit on the wrist.
All in all, it was a great holiday weekend for the Astros. So, what are your takeaways from this first series of the year?