Alex Bregman waiting with a bat in hand is one of the most ominous sights an Astros opponent can see. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Alex Bregman is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Michael Brantley gives the Houston Astros another impact bat. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Derek Fisher is making an impact in his quick stint with the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer is still having fun in the Astros dugout. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Astros aren't all replacements. They still have Alex Bregman — and that can lift an entire lineup. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Anthony Rizzo and other Cubs stars have gone home run happy in Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Chicago Cubs fans made their presence felt among a massive crowd at Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is having the time of his life with the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Derek Fisher brings Billy Hamilton type speed to Astros lineup. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman wants the pressure of being the guy who must come through. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Schwarber brings real power to the top of the Chicago Cubs' lineup. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Almost anyone who hits two home runs in a Major League Baseball game is beyond pumped. Especially if his team wins. That’s a big night. A cause for a celebration — or at least an extra late night out at The Post Oak Hotel in Houston.
But Alex Bregman is not most people.
The Houston Astros’ 25-year-old star expects more out of himself. Bregman demands more consistency. Especially if two of his five trips to the plate end with a strike out and a pop up. Even if his two home run game lifts a largely otherwise Triple A lineup to a 9-6 win over the Chicago Cubs on a night when the Astros can desperately use a bit of good news.
Bregman absolutely rescues the Astros. And he leaves Minute Maid Park a little disappointed. Sounds about right.
This is why he’s become one of the faces of his entire sport in such a short time. Bregman always wants more.
“I need to hit line drives,” he says when asked about the home runs (oh yeah, he now shares the American League lead with 17 of them). “I need to figure out how to hit the ball on a line. Because I’m popping up too much.”
He is also keeping the Astros afloat with a healthy assist from the relentless hit machine otherwise known as Michael Brantley.
Houston has somehow won four of five against the Red Sox and Cubs without George Springer and Jose Altuve. The last two wins against the Cubs have come without a suddenly hurting Carlos Correa too. (Correa is going to be out for four to six weeks after he fractured his ribs away from the ballpark. In a statement, he says it happened during a “a massage” in his home.)
The Astros are essentially beating two of the best teams in baseball with one hand tied behind their back. Don’t try this at home kids.
If you do this kind of thing in New York, you get glowing soliloquies gushed about you. Do it in Houston and you get a nice congratulatory message for your 500th win as a manager put on the scoreboard. Things are a little more low key here. Which doesn’t make what the Astros (now 37-19 overall and 19-5 in their last 24 games) are doing any less impressive.
Through it all, a 25-year-old perfectionist is driving the surge. Even if he is often about as disgusted with himself as an old cranky Larry David.
“I think that I better figure out how to hit a four-seam fastball,” Bregman says after his 2-for-4, three RBI, three run night. “The other two at bats were absolutely terrible.”
What a bummer of a dominant game. Then again, that’s Alexander David Bregman.
“He’s such an emotional leader for us,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says. “Especially on a day where we didn’t feel very good going into the game, just with the news with Correa, with the news on (injured All-Star Jose) Altuve.”
With Altuve’s right leg — the same leg he had surgery on in the offseason — hurting, there is cause for real concern.
“Rest, keep working hard until you’ve got the leg strong,” Altuve says at his locker after game when asked what the new plan is after an aborted Triple A rehab. “And hopefully come back on the field as soon as we feel like we’re able to go out there and help the team.”
The Astros know they need Jose Altuve healthy for October — not May or June or even July for that matter — to have a real chance to win their second world championship in three years. Bregman’s presence gives Altuve the benefit of time, the chance to figure out exactly what is going on and make sure his leg is 100 percent right before returning. The Astros will not fall apart without Altuve.
Not with this perfectionist still driving them, making a limited lineup believe it can do more. On a night when Round Rock stalwarts Derek Fisher (two runs scored from Springer’s usual leadoff spot), Jack Mayfield and Garrett Stubbs (two hits in his first two Big League at-bats) all contribute, a young, healthy 25-year-old superstar powers it all.
“I don’t think they’re from Triple A,” Bregman says. “They’re in the Big Leagues for a reason. They deserve to be here. They’re studs.
“And I think all of them need to know that they belong. I have a ton of confidence in them.”
Bregman’s Own Brady Bunch
Bregman builds the confidence of first (Stubbs) and second day (Mayfield) Major Leaguers by treating them like valuable teammates. If you put the same uniform on as Alex Bregman, you’re his guy.
No matter what level of baseball it is. Bregman built a rapport with Stubbs just from the short time they played together in Single A — before he skyrocketed past him up the Astros system.
“We got drafted the same year,” Stubbs says of Bregman. “Played a little bit together in A ball. So just to be able to come up here and have a peer give you advice before a game is big. So it was good to be able to talk to him.”
Bregman has a way of reaching all constituents. Many Major Leagues are fixated on their clubhouse status. Bregman just sees teammates.
After Bregman’s second home run, George Springer bops through the dugout, shaking a Bregman bobblehead in his hand. When Bregman sees this, he just shakes his head and smiles. That’s Springer. The Astros’ injured leadoff force is still bringing the joy even if he can’t play.
And somehow, through the Altuve setback, Correa’s mysterious and increasingly bizarre rib injury, and Springer’s continuing hamstring injury absence, Hinch’s team keeps finding it.
These Astros just keep coming, no matter how much they’re cobbling it together around Bregman and Brantley. The Cubs tattoo back-to-back-to-back home runs off rookie Houston starter Corbin Martin? No matter, a 26-year-old left-handed hitting, first-day Major Leaguer who is no one’s idea of a hot prospect raps his second hit of the night into the outfield grass and ties the game at 3.
Fisher follows Stubbs with his own rocket single that Cubs centerfielder Albert Almora Jr. cannot handle and the Astros have the lead. Courtesy of two guys who were both in Round Rock less than a week ago.
It’s not black magic. It’s a deep belief that’s been fostered throughout the Astros organization.
When the superstar who’s hit a franchise record 12 home runs in May (with two games left in the month still to play) genuinely believes in you, you’re more likely to believe in you. Alex Bregman gives that gift to guys like Stubbs, Mayfield and Fisher. While Bregman calls two of his own at-bats “terrible,” he’s clearly pumped about what new Major Leaguers Stubbs and Mayfield have done the past two games.
“I didn’t realize it was that easy to get a hit that quickly in the Major Leagues,” Bregman cracks, poking a little fun at his own 0 for 18 start in the Big Leagues.
Now, Alex Bregman destroys pitchers’ best-laid plans, one swing at a time. Even when he’s disappointing himself.
“I’m pumped that we’re winning games,” Bregman allows. “That’s the most important thing.”
Are you still wondering why these walking wounded Astros are winning on? Just listen to this guy.