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.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In what was expected to be a fierce pitcher's duel, Game 1 of the 2019 World Series saw some big offensive moments in the early innings as the Nationals erased an early 2-0 deficit with five unanswered runs to take a 5-2 lead against Gerrit Cole. They would hold on to that lead and take Game 1 against the Astros, 5-4. Washington's star of the night was Juan Soto, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, including a solo home run to fuel the Nationals to a 1-0 series lead. Here is a recap of the game:

Final Score: Nationals 5, Astros 4.

Series: Nationals lead 1-0.

Winning Pitcher: Max Scherzer.

Losing Pitcher: Gerrit Cole.

Astros take an early lead

Although the Nationals would record the first hit of the night on a leadoff single in the top of the inning, it would be the Astros who would get the first runs of the night in the bottom of the first inning. George Springer worked a leadoff walk to start the frame, followed by Jose Altuve, who drilled a single to put two on base. Both would advance a base after a wild pitch to move Springer to third, followed by a steal by Altuve, then Yuli Gurriel drove them in on a two-RBI double off the left-center field wall to give Houston the quick 2-0 lead.

The Nationals immediately cut the lead in half in the top of the second, getting a solo home run by Ryan Zimmerman off of Gerrit Cole to straightaway center-field to make it a 2-1 game. The Astros threatened to extend their lead in the bottom of the third after getting runners on second and third with two outs on a bloop single that fell in by Gurriel, but a strikeout by Carlos Correa would end the inning.

Nationals roar back with five unanswered runs

The Nationals were able to fully erase the 2-0 deficit in the top of the fourth. It came on the second solo home run allowed by Gerrit Cole on the night, this one a leadoff homer to Juan Soto to tie the game. Yordan Alvarez recorded a much-needed hit considering his playoff slump to lead off the bottom of the fourth and should have moved to second after a missed catcher's interference against Josh Reddick instead resulted in Reddick recording the second out of the inning.

George Springer worked a walk next as Houston continued to work Max Scherzer into lengthy at-bats, but both runners would be left stranded as Scherzer got out of another jam. Cole encountered jam of his own in the top of the fifth, issuing his first walk to start the inning followed by a single to put two runners on. After getting an out, Cole would allow an RBI-single as Washington took their first lead at 3-2. With two outs in the inning, Juan Soto would strike again, this time a two-RBI double to extend the Nationals' lead to 5-2 before the inning was over.

Washington goes to their bullpen in the sixth while Cole finishes seven

After a scoreless top of the sixth by Cole, the Nationals moved to another pitcher, bringing in Patrick Corbin to try and hold on to Washington's lead. Corbin was as a potential Game 3 starter, but with the Nationals bullpen having notable struggles, they opted instead to go to his strong arm to try and hold on to get a Game 1 road win, potentially keeping him available for a Game 4 start. He would record a scoreless frame, erasing a one-out single by Yordan Alvarez to keep it a 5-2 deficit for Houston heading to the seventh.

Gerrit Cole would throw one more inning before he was done for the night, getting a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. His final line was not what many expected would it would be, recording his worst start of the postseason: 7.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2 HR.

Nationals hold on for Game 1 win

Tanner Rainey was the next reliever for the Nationals, but George Springer welcomed him with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh to trim the lead to 5-3. Rainey would then allow back-to-back one-out walks, prompting the move to another reliever for Washington. It would be Daniel Hudson who would come in and get the second out before an infield single loaded the bases for Yordan Alvarez, who would strikeout to end the threat.

First out of Houston's bullpen was Will Harris in the top of the eighth, and he would erase a one-out single by Soto to keep it a two-run game. Kyle Tucker led off the bottom of the eighth with a pinch-hit single against Hudson, who remained in the game for Washington. Tucker would move to second by tagging on a long flyout, then score on an RBI-double by Springer that was mere feet from being a game-tying home run, but instead left the tying run on second base with one out and the score now 5-4. After a flyout by Altuve, the Nationals moved to Sean Doolittle to face Michael Brantley, and Doolittle would win that battle to keep it a one-run game.

Joe Smith would come in for the top of the ninth to try and keep it a one-run game and give Houston a chance to tie or walk it off in the bottom half of the inning. Smith did his job, keeping the Nationals off the board. Doolittle would face the middle of Houston's order in the bottom of the ninth and retired the Astros in order to finish off Houston's Game 1 loss.

Up Next: Game 2 of the 2019 World Series will start at 7:07 PM Central on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park in Houston. It offers another terrific pitching matchup on paper with Justin Verlander for the Astros going up against Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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