They've won the division, but there's more to play for

Astros storylines for the final week of the regular season

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the lopsided victory on Sunday against the Angels, the Astros were able to secure an AL West championship for the third straight season. While that may have concluded the battle for a spot in the divisional round of the playoffs, it left a few important chapters to be written to finish off the book that is the regular season:

Can Bregman beat out Trout for MVP?

On September 7th, no one would have told you differently that Mike Trout was going to be the AL MVP. That date, however, was the last time he saw the field, opening the door for at least talks that someone could challenge his season numbers and position on top of the polls.

That someone has been Alex Bregman. According to the poll reported on September 10th, before Trout announced he would be sidelined for the rest of the season, the Angels' outfielder received all first-place votes while Houston's third baseman took home all second-place votes. I would venture a guess that if there were to be another poll done today, Bregman would already have won over some of those first-place votes.

Before Sunday's game where Alex Bregman went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer, this was the comparison between Trout and Bregman, offensively:

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OBPS WAR
Mike Trout 600 45 110 104 11 18.3% 20.0% .291 .438 .645 1.083 8.6
Alex Bregman 659 39 116 106 5 17.0% 12.1% .294 .419 .582 1.001 7.7

Of course, these are just the main offensive numbers, and defense along with some other intangibles go into the voting, but it's clear that Alex Bregman is at least making a case. He likely won't catch Trout in WAR or stolen bases, but if he can pass Trout in some of these other numbers with a terrific week at the plate, could he win over some voters considering his numbers will be with a non-insignificant amount of plate appearances more than Trout has logged with his injuries this year?

Which Astro will finish as the favorite for Cy Young?

While Bregman is going up against one of the best players in the league that is on a division rival, the two remaining AL Cy Young candidates are teammates and friends: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As of now, Justin Verlander is still the leader in the running; however, it's not over yet.

Verlander is being used cautiously down the stretch, as seen in his last couple of starts where he kept under a 100 pitch count, preventing him from going deep into games. Still, short of a complete blowup in his final start, it would take a phenomenal two-game performance by Gerrit Cole to catch and pass his team's ace.

Verlander may not have as many strikeouts as Cole (288 vs. 302), but his 2.53 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and .172 BAA over 33 starts in 2019 are incredible. That's not to say Cole isn't close, after 31 starts and with two to go he has a 2.61 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 1.89 BAA, but Verlander's resume this year is just too hard to pass up. Cole does still have two starts left, though, where if he can continue his streak of double-digit strikeouts while shutting out the weaker teams he's facing, he could make it close.

Either way, Houston is going to take home a Cy Young award in 2019 after Verlander controversially came second to Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018.

What will the new franchise record for wins be? 

In 2018 the Astros finished with the best record in franchise history at 103-59. With six games to go in 2019, they sit a game shy of matching that in the win column at 102-52. At this point, it's not a matter of will they set a new record, but by how much.

Their remaining games consist of a six-game trip to the west coast to take on the Mariners in Seattle for two and then a four-game series with the Angels in Los Angeles to put a bow on the first 162. No matter that the two teams are well out of the running and may have their lineups peppered with some prospects out for some major-league exposure, the Astros are still a combined 27-5 against these two teams so far this year.

If they win out, which is a very probable outcome, they will finish 108-52. If Houston sputters to the finish line, I still can't imagine them losing out. The 2019 Astros should go down as one of the best regular-season teams in the club's history.

Can Houston hold off the Yankees and Dodgers for home-field advantage?

After Sunday's games, the top of the MLB overall standings looks like this:

Astros (102-54) -
Yankees (102-55) 0.5 GB
Dodgers (100-56) 2.0 GB

As I mentioned earlier, Houston has a great schedule in the final week to hold on to their current lead over New York in the American League and the Dodgers for the overall record. They will play one more game (6) than the Yankees (5), but New York will have two tough games in Tampa Bay against the Rays who are currently trying to hold on to the second Wild Card spot.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, will finish their schedule on the road as well, albeit against some easier opponents in the Padres and Giants. As has been the case for several weeks now, the Astros must take care of business to ensure that they stay in front of New York, who will be a tough opponent in general, especially in their home stadium in October.

The Astros have accomplished their goals to this point, which includes winning their division. Now, they need to finish what they started to lock up home-field advantage and maybe secure some individual awards along the way. Despite all of that, though, the next goal is not having more games at home than anyone else, or an MVP or Cy Young; it's lifting the Commissioner's trophy after winning the World Series.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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