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Real or not? Jose Altuve could be MVP again

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Published in Baseball
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 20:50

There were some thoughts heading into the 2019 season that we had seen the best of Jose Altuve. The consensus view after a 2018 season in which he hit .316 with 13 home runs and still finished 13th in the MVP voting: still an excellent player, but probably no longer an MVP candidate. Nobody on ESPN's panel picked him to win the award.

Not so fast, my friends. Altuve homered twice in the Astros' 8-6 win over the Yankees, including this Titanic blast off James Paxton:


• Altuve became the first hitter to homer twice off Paxton in the same game.

• He homered four times in the three-game series as the Astros swept the Yankees.

• As Astros beat writer Chandler Rome tweeted, both home runs had exit velocities of 108 mph. Altuve had just five balls in play all last season of 108 mph or higher.

After hitting 24 home runs in both 2016 and 2017, Altuve didn't homer last season until his 26th game. Still, he was hitting .342/.407/.483 at the end of June, started his fourth straight All-Star Game and looked like a good bet to maybe win his fourth batting title. Somewhere in there, he hurt his knee. He hit .276 the final three months and we saw him limping around in the postseason. He even had to DH one game in the AL Championship Series.

If he can stay healthy, it looks like we still have MVP candidate Jose Altuve. That's huge for the Astros considering their offense scored 99 fewer runs in 2018 than in 2017.

As for the Yankees, they fell to 5-7. Paxton has dominated Houston in the past, but the Astros had a good plan against him, fouling off 26 pitches and running him out of the game after four innings and 95 pitches. Tommy Kahnle then served up a two-run homer to Carlos Correa.

New York rallied with four runs in the eighth and had the tying run on second with no outs but left him stranded, then Zack Britton allowed an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. The vaunted bullpen gave up nine runs in the series and Yankee starters haven't been going deep in games.

Glasnow half full: The Rays beat the White Sox 9-1 on a 38-degree day in Chicago behind Tyler Glasnow's career-high 11 strikeouts in six innings and Tommy Pham's first two home runs. According to Statcast, Glasnow became the first pitcher this season to face at least 20 batters and not allow a ball in play of 95-plus mph (it happened nine times in 2018). Check out his stuff:

Glasnow has started the season firing on all cylinders, continuing the buzz he created over the final two months of last season, when he looked good after coming over from the Pirates. He's 3-0 allowing just one run in 17 innings (an Alex Bregman home run) and has dominated with both his fastball and offspeed stuff. He has thrown the fastest pitch by a starter this season at 100.4 mph, but nine of his 11 strikeouts on Wednesday came with his curveball or slider. Most importantly, he's not walking batters, with just three against 21 strikeouts.

How good does that Chris Archer trade look now? Austin Meadows went 3-for-5 on Wednesday with his fourth home run and is now hitting .341/.420/.659. It's early, but it's possible that both Glasnow and Meadows will outperform Archer this season -- and the Rays have Glasnow under team control for five seasons and Meadows for six, while Archer is signed through 2021. The Rays also received pitcher Shane Baz, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2017.

It's the kind of trade that can push a small-market team like the Rays to the next level and the kind of trade that can potentially cripple a small-market franchise like the Pirates. To be fair, it's understandable why the Pirates made the deal. They hadn't been able to extract the most out of Glasnow's high-ceiling talent and had been using him out of the bullpen after he posted a 7.69 ERA as a starter in 2017. Meadows, meanwhile, had never put it all together and had injury issues throughout his minor league career.

Still, peak Archer had come in 2014 and 2015 and he has a 4.09 ERA since 2016. He's a good pitcher and will help the Pirates, but five years from now we might look at the deal as one of the key building blocks for the 2019-2024 Rays.

Hit Merrifield: Before Whit Merrifield came along, the most famous "Whit" in baseball was probably Walt Whitman, who once wrote, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game -- the American game. It will take them out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism."

(I guess he never envisioned domed stadiums or retractable-roof ballparks.)

Anyway, Merrifield extended his hitting streak to a Royals franchise record of 31 games, breaking a tie with George Brett with a perfect, two-out bunt single down the third-base line in the seventh that also tied the game, scoring Terrance Gore from third base.

Since Merrifield's streak covers two seasons, there is some controversy about whether this "counts." It does. Think of Cal Ripken's stretch of consecutive games. Of course, we can still debate the merits of Merrifield's streak and how the debate will really turn heated if he keeps this thing going and starts approaching, say, 50 games in a row. That's a long way away, of course -- but I can already see all the old-timers screaming that Joe DiMaggio did it within a one season and Whit Merrifield is no Joe DiMaggio. (Go Whit Merrifield!)

The Royals game got really interesting in the ninth. First, Mitch Haniger homered with two outs off Brad Boxberger (Diamondbacks fans nod their heads) to give the Mariners the 6-5 lead and extend their season-opening streak to 14 games with a home run.

In the bottom of the inning, Gore doubled over the head of left fielder Domingo Santana with two outs. That doesn't happen every day! Gore entered the game with two hits in his major league career over six seasons, both singles, and he doubled and tripled in this game. Scott Servais then intentionally walked Merrifield, putting the winning run on base, certainly a questionable move. Gore and Merrifield then pulled off a double steal. Roenis Elias walked Billy Hamilton on a 3-2 breaking ball, but Adalberto Mondesi popped up to end it. The Mariners are 12-2.

(Is this a bad time to mention the Mets started 12-2 last year?)

Cardinals extend Matt Carpenter: The Cardinals announced the signing of the three-time All-Star to a two-year extension that covers 2020 and 2021 at a reported $18.5 million annual salary with a vesting option for 2022 if Carpenter accumulates 1,100 plate appearances in 2020-21, including at least 550 in 2021. Carpenter had already been signed through 2020, so this deal guarantees him another season in St. Louis beyond that and likely two unless he suffers some kind of significant injury.

Carpenter finished ninth in the MVP voting in 2018 after hitting .257/.374/.523 with 36 home runs, 42 doubles and 102 walks. Since his breakout season in 2013, only Mike Trout has scored more runs. Of course, with Paul Goldschmidt now signed through 2024, this locks Carpenter into third base through at least his age-35 season (and 36 in 2022). When the Cardinals acquired Goldschmidt, there were some concerns about Carpenter's ability to play third base, but he has always been adequate there with minus-3 defensive runs saved in his career there, including plus-6 in 76 games in 2018. He might slip to slightly below average in the next season or two, but I wouldn't foresee a defensive disaster over there. Looks like a good signing for a valuable player.

Random bad pitching factoid of the night: The Twins were leading the Mets 1-0 in the fifth inning when this happened with one out:

(Andrew Vasquez replaces Jake Odorizzi)
Hit by pitch
(Trevor Hildenberger replaces Vasquez)

The last time a team walked or hit seven consecutive batters was 1994, when Mariners starter Dave Fleming walked five Yankees in a row and reliever Jeff Nelson hit a batter and walked two more for eight in a row.

The Mets held on for the 9-6 win as Noah Syndergaard tired in the eighth and allowed three runs and then Mickey Callaway, not trusting the rest of his bullpen, was forced to use both Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz as they head to Atlanta on Thursday without an off day.

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