The Houston Astros are off to a red hot start to the 2017 MLB regular season. After games of May 1, the Astros have carved out a 17-9 record.
That mark is the third-best in all of baseball, and has the club sitting three and a half games up in the AL West Division.
For the most part, it has been pitching that has put Houston on top. The Astros staff has a .227 cumulative Batting Average Against, tied for the top mark in the game. Their 3.33 ERA is second to only the surprising Chicago White Sox pitching staff.
Meanwhile, the Houston offense has left room to grow. Despite the second-best OPS in the American League, the club is just fifth in runs scored and eighth in home runs.
Those aren’t marks that leave the Astros struggling. Remember, they’re in first place comfortably at the moment. But there is one spot in the lineup that has been a bit troublesome.
At third base, 23-year old Alex Bregman was expected to play a big role this year. Bregman was the Astros’ first round pick at second overall in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of LSU.
DEBUT COINCIDES WITH HOUSTON FADE
Bregman made his big league debut in late July of last season, and has been the club’s starting third baseman most of the time since that promotion.
Over 217 plate appearances over 49 games during that rookie campaign, Bregman hit for a .264/.313/.478 slash. He contributed eight homers, scored 31 times, and drove in 34 runs.
Bregman’s presence didn’t help Houston in the standings a year ago. When he was called up, the Astros were nine games over .500 in second place, just three and a half off the division lead. With him in the lineup, the club staggered home to a 30-34 finish, falling to third place, and were 11 games back at the end.
That collapse can hardly be laid at the feet of the rookie. And by the same token, little of the hot start to the 2017 season by the team is due to his contributions.
SLOW TO PRODUCE IN 2017
This spring, the 23-year old Bregman was the youngest player on the roster for the American team that finally captured a World Baseball Classic title. He appeared in just two games for Team USA.
Back at spring training with the Astros, Bregman hit just .261 with no home runs, three runs scored, and just a single RBI in 46 at-bats over 14 games.
Thus far in 2017, Bregman is hitting for a .253/.347/.310 slash line with no…that’s zero…home runs. He has produced just five doubles, scored just seven times, and knocked in just six runs over the first four weeks of the season.
SOCIAL MEDIA ROOKIE MISTAKE
Prior to the start of a series with the heated rival Texas Rangers this week, Bregman took some heat himself over a Twitter posting on Sunday evening.
The hashtag supposedly stands for “Beat The Snot Out Of The Rangers”, which he later called a “rookie mistake” according to a piece by for MLB.com by T.R. Sullivan and Brian McTaggart.
The Astros would defeat the Rangers in the series opener on Monday night by a 6-2 score. But the game deteriorated into a bit of a beanball war, as Houston appeared determined to send a further message to the Rangers that this season will be different than a year ago.
TRYING TO OVERCOME RECENT RANGERS DOMINANCE
In 2016, Texas rolled up a 15-4 head-to-head record on their divisional and in-state rivals. The Rangers won the AL West for a second straight season, their fourth division crown in seven years.
The Astros, a preseason favorite of many prognosticators after nearly knocking off the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the 2015 playoffs, missed out on the postseason entirely.
Houston can probably stay on top of the division, even if Bregman continues to struggle. But it’s a long, hot summer to come. The Rangers are struggling right now, but remain a dangerous team.
The chances of manager A.J. Hinch‘s club maintaining their early lead and bringing home the franchise’ first division crown since 2001 will be greatly improved if Bregman begins to finally heat up.
Right now, most things are going the Astros’ way. But Houston has a problem at third base in Bregman. That problem needs to get resolved if the Astros want to reach their potential as a dominating American League powerhouse and World Series contender.