The case for Houston’s Mount Rushmore: Jose Altuve

When Jeff Bagwell retired following the 2005 MLB season, the then 37-year-old first baseman ended his career as the Houston Astros' most celebrated player in franchise history. He held several all-time records at the time of his retirement, and still holds the Astros' highest batting average in a single-season (.368) set in 1994 — which led to a unanimous MVP.

Bagwell will forever be one of the greatest athletes to represent Space City, but the absence of a World Series title has reduced his chances to be placed atop Mount Rushmore. The one player who is well on his way to — and in some cases has— surpassed the Hall of Famer is current Astros' second baseman, Jose Altuve. What Altuve has accomplished in his first nine seasons in Houston is enough to engrave the Venezuela native atop of the city's pinnacle.

"Don't be content with being average. Be better. Work harder. Be great." These are the words Altuve wrote to himself in an inspirational letter penned to himself prior to the Astros' 2019 postseason run. The message was aimed to increase his confidence, but the self-written letter symbolizes the theme of his career more than a self-esteem booster.

When he arrived in Houston during the spring of 2011, the Astros were in disarray. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth time since 2005, finishing the 2010 season with a 76-86 record. Although he did not have much of an impact as a rookie, Altuve's production through 57 games solidified a bright future for the team. He batted .346 over his first 21 games before falling off a little to end his rookie season with a .276 average. The following year, Altuve received his first of six All-Star selections in 2012 hitting .290 with 33 stolen bases, 34 doubles, and 37 RBIs.

Since his first two seasons, Altuve has established himself as one of the most decorated players in franchise history capturing: Five Silver Slugger awards. Led the American League in stolen bases twice (2014 & 2015). And received a Golden Glove honor in 2015. His career accolades have already placed Altuve as an all-time great, but what separates him from Bagwell and the rest of the Astros' legends is his 2017 season.

In his seventh year, Altuve arguably had the greatest individual season in Astros history. For the first time since 2001, Houston finished first in their division with a 101-61 record, as Altuve took home the 2017 American League Hank Aaron Award, and his third batting title slashing .346/.410/.547 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. His outstanding play earned Altuve his first MVP award, as the 5-foot-6 second baseman became the shortest player to receive the honor since Phil Rizzuto in 1950 (Yankees).

The season ended with Altuve helping the Astros capture their first title in a World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Altuve further cemented his legacy in Houston off the diamond by raising millions alongside Houston Texans' star J.J. Watt, to help the city recover from its devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

Following the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal, his image has taken an inadequate hit, but it is not enough to discredit the greatness Altuve has put on display since 2011. A multi-time All-Star. An MVP. And a champion. It's quite a story Altuve is putting together for a 16-year-old baseball hopeful who was once denied a chance to participate in the Astros tryout camp due to his height.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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