Well, that wasn't very pleasant. In what has become a recurring theme this year, the Astros’ hitters suddenly became inept at home. Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker were hitless, with Alvarez striking out three times. Martín Maldonado stuck out with the bases loaded in the fourth, representing Houston’s best chance of breaking this game open. Only five singles in the entire game. Again, it wasn’t a pleasant evening, especially when the box score looks like the one below.
It isn’t a well-kept secret that the Astros have struggled to hit consistently at Minute Maid Park, at least compared to 2022.
.249/.324/.411, 92 HR, 105 wRC+
.257/.330/.449, 116 HR, 124 wRC+
One possible culprit? A surprising lack of home runs. Alvarez, for example, hit 20 home runs at Minute Maid Park in 2022. This season? Only 10. Jeremy Peña had 14 dingers last season at home, but only five this year. Yainer Díaz, with 195 plate appearances at Minute Maid Park, led the Astros in home runs (14) at home in 2023. The prolonged absences of Alvarez and Jose Altuve ought not to be ignored in this trend, but the overall decrease of power at Minute Maid Park from the Astros still stands out. To overcome this early deficit in the ALCS, they must rediscover a bit of that power, especially at home.
Alas, Justin Verlander and the pitching staff held up their end of the bargain in Game 1, limiting the Rangers to only two runs. While Verlander wasn’t particularly sharp — seven whiffs on 52 swings — he did enough to minimize the damage across 6 2⁄3 innings. Héctor Neris and Bryan Abreu kept the Rangers at bay long enough to give the lineup a chance. That is all you could ask for against one of the best lineups in baseball this season.
Bryan Abreu's 2Ks in the 9th. pic.twitter.com/odQrGak8j6— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 16, 2023
Ultimately, it wasn’t a good enough performance from the Astros in Game 1. Numerous opportunities were squandered. Evan Carter made a sensational catch against Bregman in what was shaping to become a pivotal eighth inning for the Astros. Altuve’s blunder on the basepaths turned that well-hit ball into a double play. Houston went out with a whimper following that moment for the last four outs.
With Framber Valdez opposite Nathan Eovaldi for Game 2, the Astros have a chance to even the series before heading to Arlington. However, it’ll be interesting to see which Valdez shows up considering his second-half issues. While Sunday didn’t proceed according to plan, the ALCS is far from over with plenty more baseball left to play. With that said, the Astros will need better production from the lineup to push the Rangers in this series.