SEASON WRAPUP

2018 Astros regular season player awards

Tony Kemp picks up some hardware. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

In 2018, the Astros were able to have their best regular season in franchise history. This weekend they will begin their journey of attaining the pinnacle achievement of a baseball season, which they were able to win last year, a World Series championship. While we wait to see if Houston will be successful in defending their championship, here's my regular-season awards to honor some players that propelled the Astros to another terrific season:

Best Acquisition of 2018 - Gerrit Cole

The Astros knew they were getting a strong pitcher when they acquired Gerrit Cole in January, but I don't think they or anyone else would've predicted that Cole had the kind of season he had this year in him. Although he finished with a slightly higher ERA in 2018 (2.88) than in 2015 (2.60), Cole had arguably an even better year than 2015 which was his best year on the mound to this point. The biggest way he was able to shine in 2018 was via the strikeout. Cole was able to crush his previous high of 202 strikeouts by getting 276 in 2018. He finishes the year with a strong 15-5 record which combined with his other statistics will have him with teammate Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young discussion. Honorable Mentions: Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon.

Best Reliever of 2018 - Collin McHugh

In a year where we saw the meltdown of Ken Giles, the inconsistency of Hector Rondon in a setup role, and a trade for Roberto Osuna, the one relief pitcher that was with the team all year and consistently delivered was Collin McHugh. He appeared in 58 games this season, during which he pitched 72.1 innings while keeping his WHIP under 1 at 0.91. His best contribution was his versatility; he could come in to get eat up some innings after a shorter than expected game from a starter, he could get the team out of a high-leverage jam in the late innings, or he could come in with a big league to close out a game. A big honorable mention in this category is Ryan Pressly, who after coming over to the Astros near the trade deadline has been one of the best relievers on the team.

Underrated Player of 2018 - Tony Kemp

Last year it was Marwin Gonzalez providing some clutch offense and filling in holes defensively just about everywhere on the field when guys needed a rest. This year, though he mainly played in the outfield exclusively, I'd say that guy was Tony Kemp. Kemp probably didn't end up very high on Player of the Week voting on any given week, but it was his consistency that made him valuable in 2018. He made numerous clutch plays in the outfield that saved runs, and also came through at the plate regularly with hits to flip the lineup over or build some offensive momentum.

2018 Astros Cy Young - Justin Verlander

Like when talking about Gerrit Cole earlier, we knew from Verlander's success last year that he still had some good games left in him, but he went above and beyond this year for Houston. Though Verlander didn't finish the year with as good of a record as he deserved (16-9), or with the lowest ERA (2.52), he was able to start 34 games and get career-bests in strikeouts (290) and WHIP (0.902). Other than his final record, Verlander at age 35 was able to put together a season that rivals his Cy Young season of 2011 when he was 28. He'll be deservedly at the top of the Cy Young conversation for 2018, and just might be able to win the voting based on his dominance that goes beyond his numbers. Awards or not, Verlander is one of the best aces in baseball and should be poised to get some more playoff wins to add to his lustrous career.

2018 Astros MVP - Alex Bregman

The 2018 regular season will go down as the year of Alex Bregman. I'm not here to try and tell you that he's passed Jose Altuve as the best player on the team, or that he's going to win MVP of the league (though he should definitely be in the conversation). However, while the typical workhorses of the team like Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer all had some time on the DL this year, it was Alex Bregman putting the team on his shoulders with his 100 RBI, 30 home run, 50 double season keeping Houston's direction on the right path and their momentum strong. On top of that, Bregman came alive as a clutch hitter in 2018, hitting numerous walk-offs, all while continuing to improve his play at third base. To say that Bregman's future is bright is an understatement because if he can keep playing at or above his strong potential, he's on a trajectory that could make him one of the best players of the upcoming generation.

Although they didn't finish with the best record, and will likely not have someone named MVP of the American League like they did last year in Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros of 2018 were still a star-studded lineup of players that delivered a terrific year and have a great shot of winning it all in back-to-back years.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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