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?

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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.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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