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 ALDSPhoto 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 UptonPhoto 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 SpringerPhoto 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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The Astros head back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

Sports doesn't get more tension-filled and compelling than a close game seven of a championship series. Of course, leading the World Series three wins to two the Astros want no part of a game seven Sunday night with the Phillies at Minute Maid Park. The cases of champagne are ready. The Astros have two shots if needed to uncork the bubbly.

The idea that the Astros have the momentum is meaningless. Momentum is basically recency bias. In 2019 the Astros came home up 3-2 after sweeping three games in Washington DC. They had all the momentum! A lot of good it did them as the Nationals took games six and seven at MMP to win the series. Last year in Atlanta the Astros headed home after staving off elimination by winning game five. Momentum reseized! And then the Braves routed the Astros in game six to wrap up the title.

The Astros do have the substantially better position and the obviously better team heading into game six, but the money is not yet in the bank. Assume nothing! The starting pitching matchup is a rematch of game two, in which Framber Valdez vastly outpitched Zack Wheeler. One early tell will be whether the Phils are better prepared for Framber's curveball which bamboozled and dominated them. On the other side, the Astros smacked around Wheeler, who was given extra rest ahead of game six after his game two velocity dipped a few miles per hour below its norm.

If there is a decisive game seven, Cristian Javier should get the start. Yes he's never gone on three days rest and yes the track record of short rest starters is not good for a while now. Lance McCullers's historically inept game three performance came on the road. The Astros have not grasped that Lance is much better at home (or they at least have not planned accordingly). McCullers will have four days rest ahead of game seven. Still, whether McCullers was tipping pitches while getting shellacked and now he and the Astros clean it up, Javier is better. I mean, who would you trust more? Who would the Phillies rather face?

Literally every pitcher on the roster would be available out of the bullpen in a game seven. Javier's leash can be short. Not that Dusty Baker should make huge decisions via fan (or media) vote, but if Dusty starts Javier and Cristian gets hit hard, the prevailing Astro fan reaction would be "Darn it!" Or something vaguely and untypably similar. If Dusty starts McCullers and Lance got hit hard again, the prevailing Astro fan reaction would be more "Dusty you dumb-dumb, you have to go!"

Changing of the guard

Refresh my memory. Who was the Astros' shortstop before Jeremy Peña? Carlos Correa had numerous big postseason moments with the Astros, but with one more win, Peña's rookie postseason becomes the stuff of Astro legend. Over the five years of trips to five American League Championship Series and three World Series with Correa, Carlos had excellent playoffs in 2017 and in the fanless 2020 season, not so good the other years. Peña has a track record to build, but he has delivered massive hits on the road in every series: the 18th inning series winning home run at Seattle, the game four game-tying homer at the Yankees, and then Thursday night the tiebreaking homer in Philadelphia. Studly.

Reminder: Correa made 35.1 million dollars this season, Peña 700 thousand (he will get some bonus money from the new pre-arbitration eligible player performance rewards pool). Next year Correa will haul in whatever crazy money he hauls in during free agency, Peña will get whatever small raise the Astros choose to give him. Same holds true for 2024 unless Peña and the Astros agree on a multi-year contract at some point. The Astros control Peña through the 2027 season.

JV came through when it mattered

Credit to Justin Verlander for grinding through five innings of one run ball and finally getting the zero out of the win column in his World Series ledger. His command again wasn't sharp, but guile, grit, and some big two out pitches were enough. If Verlander chooses to move on in free agency or the Astros move on from him for payroll flexibility, it was a parting start of which he can be proud and a start that served the Astros' needs.

Help wanted: Designated hitter

Provided Yordan Alvarez is in left field, maybe the Astros can get some sort of roster waiver allowing them to raffle off the game six designated hitter role for charity. Mattress Mack? Or maybe Jeff Bagwell could take a couple nostalgic swings? Who has looked worse between Trey Mancini and Aledmys Diaz is a tough one. David Hensley is the by default option, since using Christian Vasquez seems not a consideration.

Since destroying Seattle in the first two games of the Division Series, Yordan has done very little damage offensively. Maybe he has a moonshot ready to end the postseason in the style he began it.

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