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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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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