Kyle Tucker is hitting the ball hard, flying around the bases and making things happen for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker does not believe in batting gloves. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker is having fun playing baseball again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The scar from Tommy John surgery is very visible on Lance McCullers Jr's rebuilt right arm. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
A perfect relay from left fielder Michael Brantley to Carlos Correa to catcher Martin Maldonado cut down a crucial A's run. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The A's runner was clearly out after a perfect Astros relay. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Breaking pitches are crucial for Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker's swing looks more locked in than ever. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. is going back to being a "stuff" pitcher for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is a vital part of the Astros' defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr.'s form is crucial for the Astros future. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa and the Astros have had to dodge some inside pitches this season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers brings a fiery persona to the mound. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Former Astro Tony Kemp got a nice, long video tribute from the Astros before Game 2 of the A's doubleheader. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve's struggles at the plate are an unexpected 2020 subplot. Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Astros and Oakland A’s played a double header in Minute Maid Park, celebrating Jackie Robinson Day the da, August 28, 2020y after walking off the field in protest of racial injustice, August 29th.
Zack Greinke is somehow still often dominant with a diminished velocity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker has a stacked lineup and a major challenge. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Few top prospects have had as many doubters as Kyle Tucker. Former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch did not like how Tucker carried himself when he first arrived in the Majors. Many local Houston reporters regarded him with dubiousness, too. Even if there was little evidence to back up dismissing Tucker’s talent — besides the type of initial slow start that many established Big League bats have endured.
Tucker’s only played 82 games in the Majors with a total of 245 at-bats (with almost half of those coming this season), but he was still routinely dismissed as a non-star in definitive tones by Houston radio and print voices. The more extreme called for Tucker to be traded while he still had value.
Essentially, many gave up on Tucker before he ever really had a chance to show his talent.
Well, there is no discounting or diminishing Kyle Tucker now.
The lanky left-handed swinger who forgoes batting gloves and most smiles is keeping the Astros’ championship pedigree alive. Driving in three runs in the first innings of both games of a doubleheader against the Oakland A’s, Tucker pushes a depleted Houston team to a crucial Saturday sweep.
“He’s really carrying us right now — as far as RBI,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says. “I’m glad he is. He’s coming into his own.”
With Tucker’s six RBI in the doubleheader setting the tone for the Astros’ most important series of this coronavirus season to date, Baker’s team collects 4-2 and 6-3 wins.
“I think he’s starting to kind of slow things down for himself,” George Springer, the former World Series MVP, says of Tucker. “He’s been hitting the ball hard for a long time. He’s showing glimpses of what he can do.
“He puts in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to be who he’s been. It’s obviously a short season and a lot of people get stuck on stats and all that stuff. But he doesn’t care. He just wants to drive the ball — and it’s starting to show.”
During one of ESPN’s Korean Baseball Organization’s broadcasts, Preston Tucker noted that his younger brother is the easiest person to get ahold of from halfway across the world. “He’s up all night playing video games,” Preston Tucker laughed.
Many 23-year-olds are. But few are lifting up a baseball team that’s made two of the last three World Series. Kyle Tucker is doing that between marathon Xbox sessions, too.
Preston Tucker has won a car and hit 24 home runs in Korea this season, which should get him a legitimate opportunity to be an MLB starter in 2021, if that’s what he wants. His little brother has done something just as difficult.
He’s won over his Houston media doubters. The Houston Astros are anything but Kyle Tucker’s team. But this 2020 version would be more lost than Tom Hanks’ Castaway character without him.
Still, when Tucker is asked about what this breakout means for him, he instead talks about the team and where the now 19-14 Astros are.
“It’s big, we got two wins today. Pulled a little bit closer to first place in our division,” Tucker says. “So that’s good…”
It is a little better than good. Despite all the injuries and the slow, sometimes painful starts from Springer (who did homer Saturday) and Jose Altuve, these makeshift Astros are somehow just 2 and 1/2 games out of first place this last Sunday in August. With Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke beating Oakland without their most dominant stuff, the A’s can at least see that familiar Houston shadow again.
The Oakland A’s are something of baseball’s darlings. The media loves them. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian declared Oakland one of real powers in the American League the other night on SportsCenter. And there’s no doubting the A’s record (now 22-12) and lineup power.
Still, it’s the Astros who are the three-time-defending American League West Champs. And this doubleheader sweep gives them the chance to keep fighting for four.
Call it a statement — one largely delivered by some still relatively new names. The Old Bully is not quite dead yet. Only now — at least for the moment — it’s being led by Kyle Tucker.
“Well, you know it’s in there,” Baker says of Tucker’s exploits. “You’re not the Minor League organization player of the year for nothing.”
When you break a record previously shared by Joe Morgan, you’re doing something right. In the first inning of doubleheader Game 2, Tucker does exactly that, lacing a triple into the gap that bounces all the way to the center field wall. Tucker has his sixth triple in 33 games, breaking an Astros franchise record shared by Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman, and Omar Moreno.
Tucker also leads the Major Leagues in triples, dominating an unusual category that’s often the province of complete players. In the Astros’ last 15 games — a full fourth of this 60-game coronavirus season — Tucker is hitting .362 with five home runs and 20 RBI.
This is not some sudden breakout as much as it’s an ultra-talented player taking advantage of having truly regular Big League playing time for the first time. Kyle Tucker is smashing the baseball, flying around the bases with his long strides, generally playing like the star everyone who bothered to watch saw in the Minor Leagues.
“I think he’s starting to mature a little bit,” Springer says. “I think he’s starting to face guys over and over again. He’s starting to understand himself as a player. He’s only been up here a year or two. And I really kind of love the way he’s made adjustments.
“He tries to learn. That’s important.”
For the Astros, it’s season changing.