Following Justin Verlander's implosion in Game 1, I was honestly not confident that the Astros could stage a comeback. I know there are numerous examples of this team doing precisely that in recent postseasons, but I guess I am still scarred by Greg Maddux, Kevin Brown, and Jim Edmonds's experiences of my youth. After all, I am partially a product of my childhood, no matter how much I try to shake it off.
That comeback, however, proves that postseason baseball is the best and also the worst. For example, one of your favorite players throws the occasional clunker at the most inopportune time — wait, is this a repeat of the 2019 World Series? — followed by rookie(s) or lesser-known players stepping up when it matters most. If everything goes smoothly once the initial carnage has passed, it is possible to witness your best hitters do what they do best, which sometimes means knocking the ever-loving snot out of a ball into the right field second deck. Amazing what can happen when positive results are sequenced together in the last five innings of a game.
Yes, Yordan Alvarez deserves plenty of the credit as he was the one who swung the bat to give the Astros a 1-0 series lead against the Mariners. Jeremy Peña and David Hensley, take a bow as your two solid at-bats kept the team in the game long enough for Alvarez to perform his heroics. It was honestly a team-wide effort to come back in this one, as evidenced by Alex Bregman's two-run shot in the eighth inning to lessen the deficit.
One of the turning points for the Astros in Game 1 was how well the bullpen held up in those remaining five innings. Only one run, courtesy of a solo home run, off of Cristian Javier was a key reason why this game ultimately concluded in the manner it did. There was little room for error as another crooked number or two likely hands Seattle the early series lead with home-field advantage. But if I could highlight one player for a moment today, it would have to be Bryan Abreu, a pitcher many of us wasn't quite sure about entering the season.
Here comes Abreu at the top of the fifth, who had the unenviable task of following up on Verlander's abysmal performance. He was the guy responsible for stopping the bleeding. Well, if he didn't, it would be a miserable off-day for the Astros and the fans. But when he threw this first pitch curveball to Seattle's postseason-clinching hero, Cal Raleigh, I felt the tide could shift ever so slightly.
One good pitch followed by another. It is easier to write that out in the comfort of my chair than actually doing it, but it is the right mindset in these situations. If there is a mistake, pray it doesn't come back to haunt you. While I obviously didn't foresee the game's ultimate conclusion, Abreu's scoreless effort in 1 2⁄3 innings was a massive step in the right direction. At least he kept the team in the game for a bit longer. In a pressure-packed situation, I was pretty encouraged by his performance and his ability to take the sting out of Seattle's bats. It set the stage for the rest of the bullpen.
Overall, Abreu's ascension in 2022, regardless of how the postseason finishes, was one of the best storylines for the Astros. While former pitching coach Brent Strom was one of the right-hander's most prominent advocates, the results in his first 47 1⁄3 major league innings weren't exactly worth fawning over (3.42 ERA/3.81 FIP). If you accounted for his seven-run appearance in two-thirds of an inning against the Rangers on August 29, 2021, those figures look even less impressive, but I chose to ignore it as it was his only appearance that month and his last of last season. Sometimes we can ignore the outliers a little bit which can skew the results, as was the case for Abreu that day.
Regardless, there was the underlying issue of control, as evidenced by his 27 free passes to 51 strikeouts based on his FanGraphs game log page in those first 47 1⁄3 innings dating back to 2019. Strom, however, saw something there when plenty of us, who are so far less qualified, didn't. All it took were some adjustments, most notably an uptick in velocity, as I noted back in May here and further elaborated by Dan Martin in July here. Thanks to those changes, Abreu has been able to mitigate his command issues to varying degrees, which, in turn, has led to consistent improvement in results. Hey, a 1.94 ERA/2.96 FIP with a 35.5% strikeout to boot in 60 1⁄3 innings goes a long way in verifying if those adjustments were actually fruitful.