In Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, various holes in the Astros lineup erupted against the Twins ace Pablo Lopez. At times when Houston had a chance to squeak across multiple runs, it completely fell through, mainly due to the lineup construction.
For starters, to have Jose Abreu bat fifth time and time again is like performing the exact same act over and over, expecting a different outcome. Sadly, Abreu's .679 OPS somehow continues to receive Dusty Baker's approval to bat in the heart of the lineup. When hitters such as Michael Brantley are capable of passing the baton consistently, he is unfortunately batting in the wrong spot.
Moving Brantley up in the Astros' lineup is a no brainer
Since his signing with Houston in the 2019 offseason, Brantley consistently hit around the top in the lineup, producing effective results. Prior to the shoulder injury, the veteran hit .307 with an .828 OPS and a 123 OPS+.
It's perfectly reasonable for Baker to slot Brantley further down in the lineup for at least the first several games after missing over a year into the 2023 season. Now it's the postseason. Worrying about injuries should be the least of Houston's worries. Additionally, right before the ALDS started, Brantley was asked on the state of his health, regarding his shoulder:
"Just having a few days off was great I got some extra treatment in. I'm in a great position. I feel great, physically, I'm excited to get going. I'm 100% available. No limitations whatsoever. I'm ready to go. "- Michael Brantley
If Michael Brantley is ready to go, why is he still batting behind players like Jose Abreu and Alex Bregman? With the season nearly on the line heading into Minnesota tied 1-1, Baker needs to pull the trigger and finally move Brantley up to the 2nd spot where he belongs.
Better Lineup Construction
Why? It's undoubtedly the perfect spot for him. Brantley is a true table setter. He's consistent, hits for contact, and is a tough out in virtually every at bat. Slotting him in 2nd behind Jose Altuve will significantly give fits to opposing pitchers, especially when the games starts. There's no doubt Bregman is a generational talent, he had been slumping over the last 15 games to end the season (11-56, .194 AVG). Plus, he gets support from power hitters in Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.
To place him lower likely defeats the purpose of how he performs at the dish. It's a much better scenario for Brantley to get on base with Alvarez or Tucker on deck rather than having Chas McCormick, Martin Maldonado, or Jeremy Pena to bat next.
Consider this pivotal moment: Last night, in the bottom of the 4th inning, with two outs and a five-run deficit, Brantley—batting sixth—singled, advancing Tucker to third base, positioning runners on the corners. The team, in dire need of scoring, looked to Chas McCormick. Despite earning his lineup spot with a standout career season, McCormick—batting seventh—has cooled off considerably, hitting 11-52 with a .212 average to close out the regular season. Unfortunately, he struck out on three consecutive pitches, wasting a prime opportunity to thwart Pablo Lopez.
If Alvarez, who is always dangerous, had followed Brantley in the lineup, he would have posed a significant challenge for the opposition, given his regular-season statistics (.293 AVG, 31 HRs, 97 RBI, .990 OPS in just 114 games). Let's not forget his two-homer game in Game 1.
The Necessity of In-Game Adjustments
Heading to Minnesota, Houston has lost home field advantage and are nearly at the brink of elimination. The next two games will be in Minnesota against arguably one of the loudest crowds in the postseason.
Of course, Houston's pretty familiar with an opposing thunderous crowd, given their 51-30 record on the road this season. During a series such as these, managerial decisions should be made to make adjustments game by game. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli made key game adjustments by moving Carlos Correa up in the lineup after their Game 1 loss, which worked to perfection; Correa went 3 for 4 including 2 doubles, a walk, and 3 RBIs.
What Should The Astros' Lineup Be?
If Dusty starts Brantley in the lineup, he should consider doing the same. Below is what the lineup should be:
1. Jose Altuve
2. Michael Brantley
3. Yordan Alvarez
4. Alex Bregman
5. Kyle Tucker
6. Jose Abreu
7. Chas McCormick
8. Martin Maldonado/Yainer Diaz
9. Jeremy Pena
Positioning Brantley behind Altuve guarantees challenging early outs. Strategically placing Bregman between Alvarez and Tucker offers substantial backing. When Alvarez heats up, teams have been known to intentionally walk him, thereby potentially enhancing Bregman's performance. Breggy typically has a chip on his shoulder when he feels disrespected. This strategy has been employed various times in playoff scenarios, leading to substantial results. Additionally, installing Pena in the nine spot gives an additional lift to the on-base percentage should the lineup rotate back to the top.