The Astros are on track to contend for several awards in 2019

How much hardware can the Astros win this year?

photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With Yuli Gurriel and Gerrit Cole likely on their way to player and pitcher of the month awards for July, it creates consideration for the type of season-long awards this team could come away with this year. We know Justin Verlander is on Cy Young pace, but could some of his teammates also be on their way to some hardware?

Teammates battling for the Cy Young

While we wait to see what Houston's front office can do before the trade deadline to further bolster the pitching rotation, two of the current arms in it are on a course to push each other towards being named the best in the league. Right now it's Justin Verlander deservedly favored to take home the award, but Gerrit Cole has rocketed up the ranks to give him a run for his money.

With the win on Saturday in St. Louis, Cole finished his second consecutive undefeated month. He went 4-0 in July over five starts, besting his 3-0 record over six starts in June. His last loss came on May 22nd and ended that day with a 4-5 record and 4.11 ERA. Fast-forward to today, and Cole has rattled off eight straight wins, and has his ERA down to 2.94, tied for third in the AL behind Charlie Morton in first and Verlander in second.

Where Cole has the advantage is in strikeout numbers. He currently sits atop the league with 212 on the season, with the two pitchers (Max Scherzer and Chris Sale) tied for the second spot still yet to reach 200 at 189. He has been down-right un-hittable at times, which has resulted in his becoming the second-quickest to reach the 200 strikeout mark in a season.

Still, though, it's Verlander at the top of the class. He's currently one start behind Cole, with his next Tuesday night to start the series in Cleveland against the Indians. Despite being a game behind, he still boasts a better record (13-4) than Cole (12-5). As mentioned, he also sits with a better ERA and owns the best WHIP in the league at an impressive 0.84.

While the back end of the rotation may need some help, the Astros will have a fun battle on their hands with these two aces trying to one-up each other the rest of 2019 to take home the Cy Young award.

A batting title for Brantley

By this point, there's no doubt that Michael Brantley was a great acquisition by the Astros in this past offseason. It's also no question that he's a hit machine. Brantley has flirted with the best batting average in the American League in several seasons, finishing third in 2014, fourth in 2015, and fifth in 2018.

This year, he currently sits third in the AL with a .324 average, close behind Rafael Devers in second with a .329 average and DJ LeMahieu who sits at the top with .332. The good news is, Brantley is on the rise after posting his worst monthly average in June (.280), surging back with a hot July (.371 so far).

Brantley has had a better clip at home than on the road on the season (.335 vs .315), but that gap has widened with a below-average performance in away games in July. Luckily for Brantley, the Astros have a near-even split of road vs. away games the rest of the season, and many of those away from Minute Maid Park will be against very hittable teams.

He could easily heat up and outpace the two in front of him before the end of the regular season, or stay consistent, and wait for them to fall below him. For reference, last year's AL winner was Mookie Betts with an impressive .346 average, the same as Jose Altuve when he took home the honor in his 2017 MVP season.

Gurriel could win a Silver Slugger Award

As mentioned, Gurriel is a no-brainer to take home player of the month for his amazing July. So far in this month, he is hitting .407 with twelve home runs and twenty-eight RBIs. That has his season average up to .298, currently the best amongst qualified American League first basemen. Also in comparison to that same field, he sits second in RBIs, sixth in home runs, and first in doubles and triples.

With the return of Carlos Correa which solidifies the defense to keep Gurriel at first base, he has a decent chance at maintaining his average above the field and if he can stay hot, will be in contention, if not the easy winner, of the silver slugger award for AL first base.

Alvarez has a shot at Rookie of the Year

While Brandon Lowe of the Rays remains the leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, he has made his way there over many more games played than Houston's phenom Yordan Alvarez. Alvarez has remained a menace at the plate for opposing pitchers, so much so that he set a new MLB record for RBIs in his first thirty games, driving in 35 over that span to beat the old record of 34.

Alvarez currently has 12 home runs in his 129 at-bats, which paired with 31 other hits has him at a .333 average and a monster 1.113 OPS. If he can continue to perform at the plate as he had for the remaining games of 2019, he could very well come out ahead of Lowe and give the Astros their first winner of the award since Carlos Correa in 2015.

Still, it's all about the Commissioner's Trophy

While individual awards are fantastic, those remain accomplishments to reflect on when the season is over. Until then, the team remains focused on one goal, which is still within their grasp: a World Series win. While the next 48 hours or so full of potential trades can quickly shake the odds up, this Astros team should still have as good a shot of any to bring home another Commissioner's Trophy.

An extra arm in the rotation would be a big boost, but the way this team is playing now that they are healthy, they could still be favorites to beat any team in a five or seven-game series. Getting stronger through trades will only make them an even bigger force for other teams to contend with in October.

Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans

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