Alex Bregman knows the Astros can win with defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward hasn't won much while in charge. But that doesn't mean he can't win.
Yordan Alvarez is one bad man when he has a bat in his hands. And he should be one of the faces of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
When Alex Bregman is right, the Houston Astros lineup takes on a new dimension. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Texas Rangers have a $500 million infield in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, but not enough else. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman takes tremendous pride in putting in the work every day. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is one of the best defensive third baseman in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros haters — and there are still plenty of them in baseball — love to bring back up the electronic sign stealing scandal of 2017. Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward isn’t worried about the Astros doing anything against the rules though. He’s stressed over the Astros’ very legal old school sign stealing, like a runner on second base figuring out the signs and relaying them to the batter.
Especially Astros third baseman Alex Bregman who Woodward considers a near savant at legal sign stealing.
“That’s one thing that I respect about them is they’re really good (at it),” Woodward says. “They’re really good. And that’s not cheating. That’s just taking advantage of the situation.
“Bregman is probably the best in the league I’ve seen at it. He doesn’t miss a pitch. If there’s anything to know out there, he knows it.”
How spooked is Woodward by Bregman? The Rangers manger orders the rare intentional balk in the bottom of the 10th inning Wednesday night, figuring the unconventional move gives him the best chance of preserving what turns into an 8-4 Rangers win.
Bregman is the ghost runner at second base at the time and Woodward wants no part of letting him nab the Rangers’ signs. So he orders Rangers closer Jonathan Hernandez to balk Bregman to third.
It’s hard to exactly say the strategy works perfectly. Kyle Tucker, the first Astros batter of the inning, promptly singles to center and Bregman scores easily. But the Astros get no more runs. And after the Rangers felt like the Astros legally figured out some of their signs in their 7-5 series opening win Tuesday night, Woodward is happy to give up a run if it gets Bregman out of prime sign stealing position.
“Absolutely,” Woodward says when someone asks if the balk is intentional. “. . . They’re really good at doing a lot of things. If they see anything in our glove or anything like that. So we just wanted to kind of avoid that.
“I know we had a five run lead, but we were going to do it regardless. We just don’t want any thought of Tucker knowing anything that’s coming.”
It is a fascinating admission from the Rangers manager. And also a bold move from Woodward, who certainly isn’t acting like these games are meaningless to a Rangers team that is essentially just playing out the string of the season.
There is no doubt that Alex Bregman is one of the real students of the game. He studies it, puts in the work and tries to grab any within-the-rules edge he can. Another Major League Baseball team being somewhat terrified of having him on second base shows that Bregman’s study is clearly working.
To an almost amazing degree.
An Alex Bregman Mind Meld?
It turns out a thinking man’s baseball star can almost be as frightening as the laser booms that come off Yordan Alvarez’s bat. Though, Woodward is not shy about how daunting a task pitching to Alvarez is either. Especially on a night when it seems like the Rangers are almost trying to pitch around Alvarez — a task made easier by Dusty Baker (who sets the lineup from home) not starting Trey Mancini or the red-hot Aledmys Diaz — and he still hits a home run with a blistering 114.6 MPH exit velocity.
“Alvarez, I hate the guy,” Woodward says, breaking into a grin. “But respect the heck out of him. He got a big hit there off one of our best pitchers.”
“That’s not cheating. That’s just taking advantage of the situation. Bregman is probably the best in the league I’ve seen at it. He doesn’t miss a pitch. If there’s anything to know out there, he knows it.” — Rangers manager Chris Woodward
On this night, the 49-61 Rangers managed to get three runs off Justin Verlander, the Astros’ ageless Cy Young favorite. That’s a sign of a team that’s still fighting even with the playoffs long out of reach.
“I thought our at-bats against an elite guy who’s dominating the league right now was really impressive,” Woodward says when I ask about the battling. “Verlander’s been pretty much unhittable all year and I thought our guys did a great job against him.”
Leody Taveras, the Rangers’ 23-year-old centerfielder who hit only .161 last season, does most of the heavy damage. Taveras triples off Verlander and finishes with a career-high five RBI.
“That will help me a lot,” Taveras says. “That will help me a lot. That will give me a lot of confidence because it’s against one of the best pitchers in the game. You realize that he’s good. And that gives you a lot of confidence.”
The Rangers may never be quite confident again with Bregman on second base. Chris Woodward’s team won this night. But whether it is super skilled legal sign stealing or the ultimate mind games, Alex Bregman sure still seems to be in the Rangers’ heads.
That’s old school baseball too.