There are several candidates to chose from, and none of them is a bad choice for the first place team

Astros: Who's Your First Quarter MVP?

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images
Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa celebrating in game one of the ALDS Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Astros fans, remember the start of the season when the team got off to a slow start and a lot of fans started to panic and worry about the state of the team? Oh, how times have changed and how the record has improved. The team is back in a familiar spot, sitting in first place in the American League West and tied for the best record in baseball. The starting pitching is starting to settle in behind Justin Verlander, who is off to another fantastic start to the season. After some ups and downs and a bit of a rocky start, JV and the rest of the staff seem to have the ship back on course and putting up quality starts as they mow down the rest of the American League. The lineup is loaded and led by George Springer and Josh Reddick, along with newcomer Michael Brantley. Even with Jose Altuve fighting through injury and a less than .300 batting average, the team is pounding the fences and putting up runs in bunches. The back end of the bullpen has been lights out with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna stabilizing a position group that was questionable at best in years past. With all that success, it's hard to pick an MVP for the first 41 games, especially with so many players deserving consideration. With all that said, let's take a look at my candidates for first quarter MVP.

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick has always been popular in the clubhouse and a fan favorite with his gutty, gritty style, and his Rick Flair "Woooooooooo!" Known for his defense and some occasional pop at the plate, he has never been known as a player that consistently hits for a high average. That's why this season has been such a pleasant surprise for manager AJ Hinch and his staff. The career .264 hitter is ripping the cover off the ball, hitting .325 including several knocks that either put the team ahead or gave the squad a much-needed insurance run late in games. It was just a few years ago that he had the best home average in the American League and this season he has been red hot on the road where he is hitting .354. When you throw in his exceptional defense and at least one game-saving catch this season, there is little doubt he would be a worthy candidate for this early season award.

Michael Brantley

Michael Brantley has always been a steady force in the outfield for his major league career. He spent the first 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians where he was a career .294 hitter and above average outfielder as he helped lead the Tribe to several successful seasons. The only thing that seemed to be able to stop or slow down Brantley over his decade in the big leagues has been the injury bug. So when his contract expired and it was time to decide where he wanted to continue his career, Cleveland was looking to trim payroll and essentially told Brantley his services would no longer be needed and opened the door for a fresh start in Houston. He signed a 2 year, $32 million dollar deal and has been worth every penny to an Astros squad that was looking for a little more pop in the middle of the batting order. Brantley has the third-best average in the AL, hitting a sizzling .331. He leads the league in hits and already has 29 RBI for a guy that hasn't had more than 84 in a season over the last four years. He has fit right in with the Astros clubhouse and his veteran leadership has been another reason the team loves having him on their side. He and George Springer have become a dynamic duo in the lineup as well as off the field, where they have continued a strong friendship that started when both were teammates on the all-star team. "Uncle Mike" would be a fantastic choice as the Astros first quarter MVP.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander and Kate Upton Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Justin Verlander entered this season in the final year of his contract with the Astros and there was a great deal of uncertainty about his future with the club. The man who started out as the hired gun that was brought in to put the team over the top and win a World Series has really taken to the team, the city and the winning culture that Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane have created. The more he and his wife Kate Upton spent time in the Bayou City, the more they liked it and it didn't take long for the team and JV to agree on a two-year extension that will keep the ace of the 'Stros staff in orange and blue through 2021. Once the contract situation was behind him, he quickly returned to his workhorse mentality and started to add more and more solid outings, quality starts and most importantly, wins to his Hall of Fame type career. He is 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 68 strikeouts and a 0.82 WHIP. He is second in MLB in wins this season and fourth in ERA. As the rest of the staff has been up and down as they worked on new pitches and continued to get their arms back up to speed, the steady, consistently dominant Verlander has led his team from the mound and would be a strong candidate for team MVP as well as the Cy Young Award in the American League after the first 41 games.

George Springer

George Springer Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

My final candidate for the first quarter most valuable player is the guy that has my vote and should have yours too. George Springer has been as hot as any hitter in baseball over the past month and has put up numbers across the board as he leads one of the most feared lineups in baseball. The reigning AL player of the week had a five-hit game on Sunday, including twi home runs, and leads the AL in long balls with 15 and RBI with 37, through 41 games. He is hitting .321 which is good for fourth in the league and is one hit behind Brantley for the league lead in hits. Coming into this season, he was a career .269 hitter with high water marks of 34 HRs and 84 RBI in the 2017 campaign. With 75% of the season yet to be played, he is almost halfway to both of those impressive numbers. Springer, along with Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich has been the three best hitters in the game so far this season. When you factor in his outstanding glove work and defense in the outfield, while playing both right and center field and his outgoing personality is unquestionably the heart and soul of the entire squad. If George can keep this up moving forward, he should have a long list of accolades to collect along the way, but for now, it's safe to say he has been the best of the best on one of the best teams in baseball.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a tightly contested ALCS Game 2, the Astros were able to come out on top with a 3-2 win to even the series. Justin Verlander threw a great game while Carlos Correa came through with the walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

In ALCS Game 1, it was all Yankees as they overpowered Houston at the plate and on the mound en route to a shutout victory to steal a road game to start the seven-game series. Houston turned their attention to Game 2 with a fully-rested Justin Verlander on the mound to try and even the series. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (11 innings): Astros 3, Yankees 2.

Series: tied 1-1.

Winning Pitcher: Josh James.

Losing Pitcher: J.A. Happ.

Astros force Paxton out early after taking early lead


Houston's offense started on the right foot on Sunday in ALCS Game 2. After stranding a runner in the bottom of the first, the Astros scored first in the bottom of the second after Alex Bregman lasered a leadoff single, moved to second on a walk to Yordan Alvarez, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Yuli Gurriel, then scored on an RBI-double by Carlos Correa.

The run was a significant momentum boost for Houston, who had been shutout in the Game 1 loss. Although James Paxton would get through that inning with only one run allowed, he would allow back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the third, which prompted the Yankees to go to their bullpen early. The moved worked, as Houston would strand both runners to send the game to the fourth.

Verlander does his part


After three perfect innings for Justin Verlander, he would watch his 1-0 lead go away in the top of the fourth. New York's first baserunner of the night came on a leadoff walk allowed by Verlander to start the inning, which turned into a two-run home run blasted by Aaron Judge to center field to put the Yankees up 2-1 to erase Houston's lead.

Those would be the only runs allowed by Verlander, who would do an impressive job of holding the Yankees down over his start. The home run would be one of the few blemishes on a night he was able to induce outs and strikeouts to keep his team in it. He would continue into the seventh inning with a pitch count over 100, but after a two-out walk would be removed to end his night. His final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR.

Correa wins it in extras

After going down 2-1 earlier in the game, Verlander would leave in a 2-2 tie thanks to a solo home run by George Springer in the bottom of the fifth. Will Harris was first out of Houston's bullpen to finish off the seventh, getting a strikeout for the third out. Harris stayed on the mound to start the eighth, getting an out before issuing a walk to prompt AJ Hinch to bring in his closer, Roberto Osuna.

He would get two quick outs to finish the top of the eighth, but New York's bullpen would also hold in the bottom of the inning to send the gridlocked game to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Osuna would remain in the game and record a quick 1-2-3 frame to give Houston a chance to walk it off in the bottom half. In the bottom of the ninth, a pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz would work a two-out walk against Aroldis Chapman, giving the Astros a baserunner, but he would be left on base after a strikeout of Springer to end the inning and force extras. Joe Smith was next out of Houston's bullpen to start the top of the tenth and was able to retire the Yankees in order on seven pitches.

In the bottom of the tenth, New York turned to CC Sabathia for a rare relief appearance to face left-handed Michael Brantley, who would ground out for the first out. Jonathan Loaisiga was next out for the Yankees to try and finish the tenth. Instead, he would issue back-to-back one-out walks, resulting in another move to bring in J.A. Happ. Happ would get out of the jam with a strikeout and flyout to move the game to the eleventh.

Smith would get two quick outs in the top of the eleventh before a walk would end his night in favor of Ryan Pressly, who would allow a single, resulting in another change to Josh James, who would get the third out after a lengthy at-bat. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Correa evened the series with a solo home run to win the game.

Up Next: With the first two games in Houston accounted for, the ALCS will now shift to the Bronx. In Game 3 at 3:08 PM on Tuesday from New York, the pitching matchup will be the electric Gerrit Cole for Houston, who is 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 25 strikeouts after his two ALDS starts going up against Luis Severino who went four shutout innings in his ALDS start.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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