'Tomorrow, he's going off': Astros confident in Alex Bregman despite World Series struggles

Gabe Lacques

WASHINGTON — In the moments after the Houston Astros salvaged their season, Carlos Correa sought his running mate on the left side of the infield for a chat.

Certainly, the Astros’ 4-1 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the World Series kept their championship hopes in the realm of the realistic. It showed they could hit – at least a little bit – with runners in scoring position and lean on their bullpen for nearly five innings of shutout work.

Yet since the start of the American League Championship Series, there’s been a gnawing sense that the Astros have been playing a man down, that their heartbeat has been off a tick, and that a 107-win team has been out of rhythm and lacking the panache that put them within reach of a second championship in three years.

So Correa summoned Alex Bregman and played hype man.

The Astros won the ALCS largely without meaningful offensive contributions from Bregman, and despite a Game 2 homer, he’s been nearly AWOL in this Series, too: One hit in 13 at-bats, and 4-for-31 (a .129 average) since the start of the ALCS.

That probably must change if the Astros are to erase this 2-1 deficit and vanquish the nettlesome Nationals. They are convinced that it will.

“I talked to him,” said Correa after Bregman went 0-for-5 and stranded six baserunners, “and I told him, ‘Today is a positive day for you. A, because we won, and B, because tomorrow, you’re going to crush.

“They can’t contain that guy for long. He’s one of the best players in the game.

“Mark my words — tomorrow, he’s going to go off.”

Alex Bregman went 1-for-13 in the first three games of the World Series.

Game 4 couldn’t be a better time for a Bregman revival. They will start rookie Jose Urquidy in a bullpen game, taking as many innings as they can from the right-hander before turning it over to a relief corps that retired 13 of 17 batters faced in Game 3.

It’s a tough way to live, especially when your cleanup hitter is doing anything but.

And while their third baseman was far from his standard Brash Bregman after his latest oh-fer, there was a glimmer of hope.

After a first-inning strikeout that stranded George Springer at second, Bregman got the ball in play his next four trips up — hard.

“I hit four balls over 95 mph or something,” Bregman said, and if a player is aware his exact exit velocities just minutes after the game, perhaps that’s a sign he’s a bit concerned, no?

And he was pretty much right on: A drive to center in the third inning at 93.9 mph, a smash to left field at 97.4 mph in the fifth, a 102-mph forceout in the sixth and a 99-mph lineout to short in the ninth, to be exact.

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The sixth-inning at-bat marked something of an indignity — after Michael Brantley burned them for a pair of RBI singles earlier in the game, the Nationals opted to walk Dr. Smooth intentionally to load the bases for Bregman.

Bregman grounded to short, and thus wasn’t in much position to chirp about it postgame.

But the Nationals’ maneuver did not go unnoticed by the Astros, who know they play better when their MVP — perhaps the AL’s MVP, too — is cooking.

And maybe a bit angry.

“We'll go home tonight wanting somebody to intentionally walk in front of him again,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He'll carry that with him.”

Friday was more about baby steps. Bregman said the Astros “stopped the bleeding” with the Game 3 triumph and sounded a tone more Belichick than Bregs in calling it “a good team win. And on to tomorrow.”

A tomorrow that looks a lot better now.

“If we get that game tomorrow,” says Correa, “it’s going to get interesting.  We needed to get our swagger back, and I feel like we got it today. We’re too talented, we’ve come too far, too deep into the season to give up now.”

The task is far simpler if the sinkhole in the middle of the order gets patched. Bregman said he felt “not great, but good,” and at the least, a Game 3 win bought he and the Astros a Game 5, two shots to take this back to Texas.

By then, they fully expect their MVP to look the part.

“I'm not worried about Alex. You saw what he did. He's a great player,” Brantley said. “He'll find his breaks. I can't wait to see him come out tomorrow. I'm ready.

“You be ready, too.”