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A year after struggling in the postseason, Alex Bregman has returned to form

Astros third baseman was hampered by a hand injury this time last year.

Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Alex Bregman’s 2018 postseason is one of the most memorable in Astros history.

After occupying the 2-hole for most of the 2018 campaign, Bregman was notably shifted to the leadoff spot during the ALCS after the Astros dropped two of the first three games to the eventual champion Red Sox. Why? Because Boston pitching simply could not get him out. No one could.

Bregman finished with a playoff slash line of .292/.533/.625 in 38 plate appearances, including downright comical walk and strikeout percentages of 28.9 and 10.5, respectively.

Now the newly minted all-time leader in postseason home runs by a third baseman, the former No. 2 overall pick has been perhaps the steadiest bat in the Astros lineup during the current playoff run, hitting .333/.375/.600 with as many home runs as strikeouts (2).

It’s not quite the dominant display that Bregman showcased in 2018, but he’s nevertheless been exceptional.

That wasn’t the case in 2020 or 2021.

2020 might be the most bizarre season in MLB history, with a plethora of star-caliber players turning in poor seasons, likely due to the highly abnormal circumstances that stemmed from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to give Bregman a pass for his abysmal playoff production (.220/.316/.300).

But 2021 was different. There was no expedited spring training or an abbreviated schedule. For the most part, things were normal. Still, Bregman struggled in October, registering a 63 wRC+ across 69 hapless plate appearances. Of course, it was revealed shortly after the season concluded that Bregman had been playing through a wrist injury, as he underwent surgery less than a week after the Braves defeated the Astros in the World Series.

It’s a testament to how well-rounded and deep the Astros have been in recent years that they were able to play deep into October despite one of their key cogs effectively being MIA. But that isn’t the case in 2022 for Bregman, with Game 3 of the ALCS being a prime example.

Although Game 3 wasn’t Bregman’s most impactful performance of the series — he drove in all three runs in Game 2 — it was perhaps his most impressive.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was on the mound, pitching on normal rest. While he was homer-prone in 2022, Cole was still one of the toughest matchups in baseball — only Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani registered a higher K-BB% in the regular season.

Bregman would face Cole three times, and all three times would he be successful from a process standpoint, going 2-for-3, with the lone out being a line drive that had a .470 xBA.

As for the two hits, Bregman scolded a 99 mph fastball up the middle (105.7 mph exit velo) for a single after working the count full in his first plate appearance, then doubled sharply (104.6 mph exit velo) to left field after getting a hanging changeup in his third. The latter would be the hit that led to Cole’s demise in the sixth, an inning that saw him charged with three earned runs, securing the Astros’ 5-0 victory.

The production matches the process for Bregman, whose health enabled him to bounce back this year (136 wRC+) after a relatively underwhelming 2021 (114 wRC+). Moreover, he may unironically be in the best shape of his life. From Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart’s October 22 story:

In addition to working with the Astros strength and conditioning coaches, Bregman’s camp sought further help. He reached out to Alex Guerrero, the long-time trainer for legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady, prior to the season to find out what Brady does to stay on top of his game.

“We talked to him and just said, ‘Hey, what do you guys do to stay healthy for so long?’” Bregman said. “And we started to incorporate that.”

After breakfast each morning, Bregman does deep-tissue work on his lower body. When he gets to the ballpark each day, he does high-intensity band work with the Astros strength and conditioning coaches to activate the different muscles he’s going to use in-game.

As the Astros enter their fourth World Series in six years later this week, it seems they’ll have their All-Star third sacker firing on all cylinders.