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For the Astros, a Struggling Core Is Complicating Things

ATLANTA — Alex Bregman has played in the World Series in three of the last five years and knows what to expect. He and some of his longtime …

For the Astros, a Struggling Core Is Complicating Things

ATLANTA — Alex Bregman has played in the World Series in three of the last five years and knows what to expect. He and some of his longtime teammates on the Houston Astros are intimately familiar with every aspect of the process, from the travel to the games and the interviews afterward.

So Bregman knew, when starter Luis Garcia answered a reporter’s question in Spanish early Saturday morning after Houston lost Game 3 of the World Series, that an interpreter was about to provide the English translation of Garcia’s response.

But Bregman playfully cut him off with a boilerplate, cliché answer.

“He’s thankful to God for the opportunity to play in the World Series,” Bregman interjected.

The room where the news conference was held erupted with laughter as Bregman took a sip from a water bottle, leaned back and gave a wry smile.

Impeccable timing is the signature of successful comedians and baseball hitters alike. Bregman usually has it. A career .281 batter who finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting two years ago, Bregman — along with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve — has been an instrumental component of the Astros’ success over the last half decade.

But apart from a few exceptions, the three of them have not hit as they would like to over the A.L. Championship Series and World Series this October, and the situation came to a head in Game 3 on Friday when Houston was held hitless through seven innings and barely scraped out a pair of singles in a 2-0 loss to Atlanta.

Bregman was hit in the ankle by a pitch in the sixth inning of Game 3 on Friday. He stayed in the game but appeared to be in a great deal of pain.Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Bregman had one of the hits, a single through the defensive shift leading off the ninth inning. But he never even made it to second base as Yordan Alvarez, Correa and Kyle Tucker all made outs. It was Bregman’s first hit of the series, and he batted only .217 in the A.L.C.S.

“Feeling better today at the plate,” he said after the game. “Just trying to swing at good pitches today, good pitches to hit. Missed one, my second at-bat, and just fouled it straight back. But overall, looking forward to continuing to compete in the box.”

Correa hit a big home run in Game 1 of the A.L.C.S., but since them he has gone 4 for 30 (.133) with one extra-base hit, one run batted in and nine strikeouts. He went 1 for 10 in the first three games of the World Series.

Altuve hit a tack-on home run in Game 2 of the World Series, which he hoped would lift him out of a slump. He had only two hits in 26 at-bats in the six games before that and in Game 3 he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Combined, the three Astros stars are 4 for 32 in the World Series — add in Alvarez, the cleanup hitter and most valuable player of the A.L.C.S., and they are 5 for 40 — which helps explain why Atlanta leads the series, two games to one.

“You count on those guys,” said Manager Dusty Baker. “But no one can hit all the time. You get spoiled by the fact that they’re hitting almost daily. I keep referring to the law of averages. The more those guys get out, the more they’re one at-bat away from a hot streak. That’s how hitters think.

“It’s like, OK, ‘If I’m not hitting today or tomorrow, then somebody is in trouble in the near future, the very near future.’”

Altuve has never struck out more than 91 times in a regular season, but he has 14 strikeouts in 13 games this postseason.Credit…Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Baker hopes that will happen in Game 4, which is scheduled for Saturday night, weather permitting, and he knows his core has done it before. The infield of Bregman, Altuve and Correa has played in two World Series Game 7s, and all the other postseason games that were needed just to get there. They won the Game 7 in 2017, the year that they used illicit means to steal signs from opposing teams, and lost in 2019, the only World Series where the home team lost all seven games.

In 2017, Bregman, Altuve and Correa each hit two home runs in the Series and knocked in a combined 16 runs. Bregman hit three home runs in the 2019 World Series. Having seen all that he has over three World Series, Bregman did not seem panicky about the situation, nor did he miss the chance to add a comic’s touch to ease the tension. Perhaps that is exactly what the Astros hitters need.

“It’s been fun,” Bregman said. “Both teams are really good. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why you play the game, to play in the World Series, two of the best teams in the game going at it.”

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