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 dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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