Culture / Sporting Life

Yordan Alvarez Makes a Big Defensive Statement — Baseball’s Most Underrated Star Keeps Adding More to His Game

On a Night When the Astros Score 13 Runs, Their Best Hitter Stands Out in Left Field

BY // 06.18.22

The Chicago White Sox challenge Yordan Alvarez because everyone thinks they can challenge Yordan Alvarez. When he’s in the field. The perception that Alvarez is nothing but a home run hitter lingers in some uninformed sectors of baseball. But Alvarez, who is clearly one of the most complete hitters in the world, just keeps showing more.

And on a Friday night where the Houston Astros operations staff’s fireworks supply is tested long before the customary postgame pyrotechnics, Yordan Alvarez shows defense. It turns out the big man’s arm might be a little underrated too.

For when the White Sox test Alvarez, sending Leury García from second on a single to shallow left field, the Astros’ left fielder unleashes an on-target laser of a throw that easily beats the runner. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado is left with plenty of time to gather himself and tag out Garcia with room to spare.

In fact, Maldonado has so much time waiting for Garcia to arrive that he could have hummed a few show tunes.

“Oh that was awesome,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman says when asked about Alvarez’s defensive play. “That may have been one of the best throws I’ve seen him make. He’s thrown out a lot of guys from left field, but that might have been.”

This won’t be the moment that’s remembered from a 13-3 knockout of the White Sox that features a Michael Brantley grand slam, three other Astros home runs and 10 run sixth inning. It won’t even be the Yordan Alvarez moment that’s remembered. For he also hits a scorching single with a 117.9 MPH exit velocity and a two run homer.

Still, the throw may be the moment that means the most longterm. For Yordan Alvarez’s ever improving defensive play, part of his relentless drive to be one of the best players in baseball, opens more possibilities for this near dynasty.

“He’s been working on that,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says of a 24-year-old whose work ethic quickly won his teammates over as soon he came up to the Big Leagues. “He’s been working hard on his defense. And hard on throwing and throwing the ball accurately.

“That was a big play in the ballgame.”

It is also big to both Alvarez and the Astros that he keeps raising his defensive game. It allows the club to play Brantley, a 14-year MLB veteran, more at designated hitter, saving some wear and tear on the 35-year-old. With Alvarez playing four straight games in left, a more rested Brantley went 7 for 16 with five RBI and four runs scored as the DH.

“Those two guys that’s a great combination, when I can put one out there (in left) and both of them are playing,” Baker says. “And playing good.”

Michael Brantley Astros
Michael Brantley may be one of the most underrated players in all of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Uncle Mike Goes Boom

When Brantley hits that grand slam to make it 10-3, it looks like the punctuating indignity on the White Sox’s lost night. As much of a letdown as a Netflix action movie starring Chris Hemsworth if you’re the one taking the beating. But it turns out the Astros are not close to done.

Alvarez sends one over the right field wall, right over the futile leap of White Sox right fielder Andrew Vaughn. Kyle Tucker follows him with a homer to right of his own. It’s 13-3 Astros by the time the bottom of the sixth inning is over.

“That was kind of electric,” Brantley says of the 10-run frame, which the Astros last did during the 2017 championship season.

“For the last few years honestly, it’s just been passing the torch to the next guy,” Bregman says of the Astros’ approach, one that sees him hit his own home run in a three runs scored, two RBI night. “I think that was one of the first times that we did that this year.

“And that kind of shows what this offense is capable of and what we expect out of ourselves and each other night in and night out.”

White Sox manager Tony La Russa didn’t even intentionally walk someone who already had two strikes.

That 10 run inning is another sign that when things are right with this Astros lineup it can still stack up with almost any order in baseball. Except perhaps the seemingly-always-mashing 2022 Yankees.

“He’s been working hard on his defense. And hard on throwing and throwing the ball accurately.” — Astros manager Dusty Baker on Yordan Alvarez

New York (48-16) is the only team Houston (40-24) trails in the American League standings. The Astros lead the race for the AL’s all-important second playoff seed (which means a first round bye in MLB’s revamped playoff format) by four games over the Minnesota Twins and old friend Carlos Correa. That’s the real race this season, one that means much more than the Astros’ runaway AL West lead.

That is why there is a real urgency around the return of the Astros fearsome lineup.

Maybe the Astros just need to see the White Sox to bring back their pitcher-battering ways. Jose Altuve and Co. roughed up La Russa’s pitching staff for 31 runs in a four game playoff dispatching of this talky Chicago team last October. Remember former White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera, who essentially accused the Astros of cheating during last year’s playoffs with no evidence and a logic only a conspiracy theorist could follow?

The Astros apparently do. Tepera is now on the Angels, but his former team is still paying for his sins.

And Yordan Alvarez seems to still be improving. Almost by the game.

Houston Astros outfielder Yordan Alvarez, flanked by Astros general Manager James Click and a Spanish translator, announced a 6-year, $115 million contract extension that keeps the young Cuban slugger an Astro through 2028, at a Minute Maid Park news conf
Houston Astros outfielder Yordan Alvarez has reason to be all smiles these days. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

On this Friday night, his arm becomes one of his weapons. After Alvarez’s throw out at the plate, which ends the top of the fourth inning, Astros starter Framber Valdez can’t stop smiling as heads back to the dugout. Alvarez sports a pretty big grin too.

Baseball underestimating this guy is turning into a thing. From the Dodgers big blunder of including him in a trade and on and on.

“I mostly think he doesn’t have the opportunity to make a lot of throws home,” Valdez says of Alvarez as a left fielder. “Like a lot of other guys might of. But I think today he showed he does have a great arm — and is able to make those throws.”

On the night, Alvarez makes this defensive thing look almost easy.

“He took his time fielding the ball and made a great throw,” Valdez says. “His mechanics were all great on that throw. And obviously the throw beat him there by a lot.”

Just another case where Yordan Alvarez is ahead of schedule. As usual.

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