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What slump? Astros' offensive woes may be a thing of the past

Josh Reddick had a tough ALCS, but finally broke through with a hit against CC Sabathia in Game 7. Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- As the Houston Astros celebrated their American League pennant Saturday night, several position players reflected on some pivotal moments in vivid detail. But when the conversation turned to the team's lack of offense, the Astros developed selective amnesia and took the Mark McGwire, we're-not-here-to-talk-about-the-past approach to analysis.

It was hard to blame them, given the puzzling and uncharacteristic dry spell they endured for much of their 214 at-bat odyssey against the New York Yankees.

No one endured a more exasperating stretch than right fielder Josh Reddick, who logged 22 straight hitless at-bats to tie the single-series postseason futility record held by Dal Maxvill of the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals. Reddick was one more harmless pop fly or 4-3 rollover away from inflicting some serious damage on the dugout watercooler -- a la Pittsburgh's Sean Rodriguez -- when he ended the oh-fer with a single off CC Sabathia in the fourth inning of Game 7.

"It obviously wasn't my best series, personally," Reddick said. "That hit was huge. The crowd loved it like it was a walk-off hit."

Now Reddick and his buddies are looking forward to a fresh start and a blank statistical slate against the Los Angeles Dodgers as Game 1 of the World Series beckons Tuesday night in L.A. Hitters typically aren't fond of too much free time at this point in the season. But judging from the way the Astros were squeezing the bats and expanding their zones against the Yankees, they could benefit from a day or two to hit the "reset" button.

Going into October, the Astros looked like a dangerous offensive club because of their deep lineup and ability to make contact with authority on such a consistent basis. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the 2017 Astros were only the seventh team in MLB history to post the highest slugging percentage and fewest strikeouts in a single season. Of the first six, the 1948 Yankees and 1995 Indians are the only clubs since 1911 to achieve that rare double.

But the Yankees made Houston's lineup look feeble for the better part of the American League Championship Series by attacking the strike zone and putting the Astros' hitters on the defensive. The Astros logged a .187/.271/.294 slash line against New York -- and they had to rally late in the series at home just to make the final stat line look that respectable.

In hindsight, catcher Brian McCann might have authored the turning-point hit of Houston's season in the fifth inning of Game 6. Minute Maid Park was devoid of emotion -- and the game was scoreless -- when McCann pulled a 98 mph fastball from Luis Severino for a ground-rule double to give Houston a 1-0 lead. Up and down the bench, the Houston hitters could feel the tension dissipate.

"That was like a wake-up call," shortstop Carlos Correa short. "It was like, 'Here we go.' I texted him last night and said, 'That was huge for the team.' We needed that. It was huge in this clubhouse."

When Jose Altuve drove in two more runs with a single, everyone exhaled a little more. The Astros went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the series finale the following night, but their 10 hits off Sabathia and the Yankees' bullpen in Game 7 were a series high.

"We weren't not hitting because we're not good," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We weren't hitting because the Yankees' pitching is really good. For someone to step up and get a big hit and get the crowd into it, I think it relaxed our team to the point of just making us smile again. And these guys responded."

Even when the Astros looked overwhelmed against New York, Hinch generally stuck with the same lineup. He gave Cameron Maybin a start, mixed in more Evan Gattis as the series progressed and dropped Reddick from second in the batting order to ninth against Sabathia in Game 7. When someone asked about potential lineup changes during the Yankee Stadium leg of the series, Hinch half-jokingly replied, "I'll take any suggestions. We're playing our best guys."

The challenge might be even more daunting in the World Series, as the Astros take on a Los Angeles pitching staff that led the National League in ERA this season. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will start lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in Los Angeles and then go with Yu Darvish, who had a track record of effectiveness against the Astros as a divisional opponent in Texas, once the series shifts to Houston.

While the sample sizes are obviously small, several Astros have cringe-worthy stat lines against Darvish. The list of offenders includes Altuve (7-for-32, .219), Reddick (4-for-25, .160), Correa (3-for-15, .200), Marwin Gonzalez (2-for-14, .143) and McCann (1-for-11, .091).

Not that the Astros care much about history. Having survived their worst offensive stretch of the season against New York, they're ready for whatever the Dodgers and the World Series throw their way.

"I think it's a matter of everybody not trying to do too much," Reddick said. "In New York, it seemed like we were all trying to get the job done in every at-bat individually. Once we get this team to string some hits together, work some walks, work some counts and let everybody just pass the torch and move on, that's when we're special. That's when we go off."

The Astros have so much faith in their ability to hit good pitching, even 0-for-22 slumps can't dent their confidence. Maybe it was the euphoria of the moment or the champagne bubbles talking, but Reddick talked a pretty good game late Saturday.

"We've all got to put it behind us," Reddick said. "We won, and you move on, and we did it with a team that wasn't hitting well. Once this team really gets going, we probably won't even need Games 6 and 7."