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Astros' longtime heroes Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman slumping at worst time possible in World Series

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HOUSTON – It wasn’t a World Series opener so much as it was a reality check for the Houston Astros, who in their first encounter with the Atlanta Braves discovered a potent offense similar to their own, a shutdown bullpen that can overcome a massive loss, and an unsettling reality as Game 2 approaches.

Two of the Astros’ lineup cogs are flailing at the worst possible time.

There were so many reasons for the Astros’ 6-2 loss to Atlanta in Game 1 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, most notably the 5-0 hole starter Framber Valdez dug after three innings.

Yet in the bigger picture, it’s impossible to deny the ongoing potholes created by two of the Astros’ longtime heroes.

Leadoff man Jose Altuve hit a new low in his lengthy and decorated postseason career, striking out three times against Atlanta pitching, his first hat trick in 74 playoff games.

Jose Altuve went 0-for-5 with three strike outs in Game 1.
Jose Altuve went 0-for-5 with three strike outs in Game 1.

More alarmingly for Houston, he’s in a 2 for 26 funk since Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, striking out five times to just two walks.

His slump would be easier to survive were it not for another easy out sandwiching No. 2 hitter Michael Brantley.

Third baseman Alex Bregman is now in a 5 for 27 slide since the start of the ALCS, struggling to lift the ball and generate consistent, solid contact. Bregman and Altuve each have just one extra-base hit in this stretch – home runs over Boston’s Green Monster – and combined are on a 7 for 53 (.135) run.

GAME 1: Atlanta jumps on Astros early, weathers loss of Charlie Morton

BAD BREAK: Morton breaks right fibula and will miss the remainder of the World Series

Bregman ended the regular season in a 4 for 42 (.095) slide, this after returning Aug. 25 from a 10-week layoff due to a quadriceps injury.

They overcame the Boston Red Sox late in the ALCS despite these struggles, largely because series MVP Yordan Alvarez carried them home. And Brantley has been outstanding, doubling twice and singling in Tuesday’s Game 1.

But the Altuve-Brantley-Bregman-Alvarez pairing was a flop, largely because the Braves could so easily attack Nos. 1 and 3 and absorb whatever damage the lefty swingers might apply. Manager Dusty Baker chalked the loss up to “the ball not bouncing our way, and it bounced theirs.”

Yet the Braves largely made their own breaks, particularly in adding to the lead after Jorge Soler led off the game with a solo home run.

No. 3 hitter Ozzie Albies used his peerless speed to leg out a pair of infield hits, the first leading to Atlanta’s second run. No. 9 hitter Dansby Swanson finished the scoring by drawing a leadoff walk in the eighth and alertly motoring to third on Soler’s funky nubber that rolled perfectly between pitcher and shortstop.

Then, he challenged right fielder Kyle Tucker on a very shallow fly to right, Tucker needing only an adequate throw to get him, but instead yanking it up the line.

It felt like a huge run at the time – taking the lead from 5-1 to 6-1 – and loomed even larger when Alvarez tripled and scored in the eighth, and Aledmys Diaz drew a leadoff walk in the ninth.

Yet the game ended with Altuve’s soft grounder to shortstop, an appropriate conclusion.

Perhaps an Atlanta bullpen taxed after picking up for Charlie Morton will be more generous in coming days, particularly if Game 3 starter Ian Anderson delivers another brief outing. Yet for the moment, the Astros seem in deeper than the 1-0 Series deficit would indicate.

“They're a great bullpen. We knew that coming into this series,” says Brantley, who along with Alvarez touched dominant Braves lefty Tyler Matzek for extra-base hits. “It's going to be a battle all this postseason, but we look forward to it.

“We accept the challenge. It's a great group. It's a great lineup, a great team. We'll bounce back.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Series: Astros' Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman struggle in Game 1

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