With Its Battle-Tested Core Struggling, the Astros are on the Brink

ATLANTA — The most productive offense in baseball during the 2021 regular season has gone dormant in the World Series. In the final days of October, a chill has enveloped the Houston Astros bats and expressions of frustration and confusion have clouded their faces.

The Astros led majors in runs scored and batting average in the regular season — and averaged six runs per game in the American League Championship Series — but Houston is now on the brink of elimination after Atlanta won Game 4 of the World Series, 3-2, on Saturday, seizing a three-games-to-one lead.

Houston’s feeble offensive numbers in the last two games, both of which were played in Atlanta, are almost baffling. The Astros have gone hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position over the last two games and have stranded 17 runners on base, including 11 in Game 4.

The top five batters in the lineup — Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa — have combined to go 5 for 36 in those two games for a .139 batting average.

In Game 3, Houston could not manage a hit until the eighth inning and finished with only two singles in a 2-0 loss.

The Astros, who are playing in their third World Series in the last five years — they went to the A.L.C.S. in the other two — have certainly been in dire position before. Sometimes they made it work, like in 2017, and other times they could not. They lost the first three games of the A.L.C.S. to the Tampa Bay Rays last year, and fought back to even the series, before losing in Game 7.

Will Smith was able to celebrate after retiring Yordan Alvarez to end Game 4. Alvarez hit .522 in the A.L.C.S. but is hitting .091 in the World Series.Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

In the 2019 World Series, they lost the first two games at home, won the next three in Washington, but dropped the last two at home.

Manager Dusty Baker said his players would rely on all of that experience, and a belief that just because the situation is dire does not mean they will acquiesce.

“How small is your faith if you just crumble under every circumstance?” he said. “You’ve got to have faith that you can do it, and it will get done.”

That is what it has come to for the Astros: Faith.

After watching his offense stumble and falter over the last two nights in wet, cold Atlanta, it is no wonder that Baker feels he may have to lean on faith. But he also hinted that he would intercede with more practical measures, by tinkering with the lineup.

“Yeah, I thought about it,” he said. “I’ll let you know tomorrow when I make the lineup out.”

Bregman could slide down in the order. He has had one hit, a single through the defensive shift leading off the ninth inning in Game 3. Bregman is now 1 for 14 in the World Series after batting only .217 in the A.L.C.S.

Jose Altuve has homered twice in the Series but is 4 for 18 overall. He has 15 strikeouts in 14 postseason games.Credit…Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Correa hit a big home run in Game 1 of the A.L.C.S., but in the nine games since, he has gone 5 for 34 (.147) with one extra-base hit, two runs batted in and nine strikeouts. Yordan Alvarez, who was the most valuable player of the A.L.C.S., is 1 for 11.

For the Astros to rebound and get the Series back to Houston, more of their best players need to start hitting better, or else their pitchers need to throw shutouts.

Altuve is the first of the team’s core stars to break out of the team-wide slump. He hit a home run and a single in Game 4, his second home run of the World Series, and also had two extra-base hits taken away from him by superb defensive plays by Atlanta fielders.

In the second inning, Austin Riley dove to his right for Altuve’s line drive and caught it on the foul line. And with two outs in the eighth, and the Astros trailing by a run, Eddie Rosario reached out to make a running catch of Altuve’s drive to left field.

Houston had runners on base repeatedly in the first three innings, thanks in part to four bases on balls, but managed only one run in that span.

If that happens again, their season could be over.

“Just basically focus on one game at a time,” Altuve said. “That’s it. That’s pretty much what we talk about. If we win tomorrow, then try to win Game 6 and see what happens. But we’ve got to focus on one game, and that game is tomorrow.”

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