ATLANTA – With three straight games looming in a National League stadium in Games 3-5 of the World Series, the Astros are not about to bench designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, who has been named MVP in the American League Championship series and is hitting .410 this playoffs.
The Astros’ most dangerous hitter will be in the lineup in left field at Truist Park for Game 3 of the Fall Classic on Friday night, weather permitting. Even with a pitcher hitting ninth in the roster, Houston will still have its seven strongest hitters on the roster, as well as wide receiver Martín Maldonado. Starting Alvarez in left field, Astros manager Dusty Baker would move Michael Brantley from left to right and Kyle Tucker from right to center.
That means either Chas McCormick or Jose Siri – the two center fielder in the roster – will be on the bench while the Astros are in Atlanta.
“It’s a different league,” said Baker, whose entire managerial career was spent in the NL before coming to Houston last year. “Different responsibilities for different people. My outfield will be the best I can find that day.
The biggest challenge for the Astros may be navigating ninth place in the batting order after the starting pitcher leaves the game, especially if the starter leaves early. Hitting opportunities should not be missed for benchers Aledmys Díaz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, Siri and McCormick. McCormick and Castro hit better against righties; Siri and Díaz against lefties.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, can play anywhere in infield and even left field, so he can hit for almost anyone in the lineup. He’s a much better hitter against lefties, which could be a game opportunity for the Astros against lefties at the back of the Atlanta relievers’ box.
“That’s why we wanted to wear Marwin,” Baker said. “You have extra guys on the bench for potential double changes, although there aren’t a lot of guys you want to double up with to get out of your roster. So it presents challenges, but we think we have guys who are up for it. “
Houston went 3-7 in the NL Parks in the regular season, averaging 4.2 points per game (the season average was 5.3). Two of those games came in April when the Astros weren’t quite comfortable with Alvarez playing on the outfield, so he wasn’t in the lineup. He started four of the other eight interleague road games in left field.
Tucker, a Gold Glove Award finalist in right fielder for the past two years, is a competent center fielder, but not as good as he is in right fielder. Brantley’s arm isn’t as good as Tucker’s right-field arm, but Houston outfield coach Gary Pettis has said the Astros won’t suffer a defensive drop.
“We’re just trying to put them in a position where the batter is very likely going to hit the ball, I think Alvarez, Tucker and Brantley will be great there,” Pettis said.
If the Astros have a lead late in the eighth or ninth inning, expect them to insert McCormick down midfield, moving Tucker to the right and Brantley to the left. It’s the Astros’ best defensive lineup, but there’s no scenario in which Houston would keep Alvarez out of the starting lineup in favor of defense.
“There’s a lot of strategy on both sides, but there’s more, I think, with the no DH, with the pitcher hitting,” Baker said.
Right-hander Luis Garcia, who will start Game 3 for the Astros, has said he’s ready to strike and plans to use one of Alvarez’s bats. Veteran Zack Greinke, the likely Game 4 starter, has nine career homers and knows how to bat. But Greinke is only spread over 50 locations, so he might not even get a chance to strike.
“Some of the guys don’t miss it, some pitchers, and there are some pitchers that absolutely miss it,” Baker said. “Like Greinke, he’s dying to strike. I mean, once it changes to no DH [in both leagues], so that will probably never change back, and that’s something that would sadden me.