HOUSTON – Yes, we know the Astros haven't won the series. But as a thought exercise, who among the team is the front-runner for MVP status at this point? There seems to be no clear choice, and if the Astros take the series, the MVP winner will likely be determined by a sudden outburst over the next game (or two).
But for now, let's have fun running the possibilities:
We'll start with the obvious, because he has the highest average (.400) of anyone on the team who has batted in every game of the series. During the three wins in Washington, he was 5-for-12 (.417). The trouble is, for all those hits, he has only two RBIs to show for it. That's out of 26 runs scored by the Astros. But hold on. When did those two RBIs come? In Game 3 after the game was tied 1-1. That was a must-win game for the Astros, and the first of those RBIs was the winning run for that game. You can't discount timing. Especially when the Astros needed to work their way back into the series with some small ball. Those RBIs by Brantley got us the Game 3 win and gave the team momentum to sweep all three games at Nationals Stadium.
He's the oft-described heart and soul of the team, and he's right behind Brantley, batting .360 for the series. He's created plenty of base traffic and scored several runs, but he's made some serious blunders (that throw-out at third in Game 2). And the trouble again comes in the RBI department. In Altuve's case, it's a big fat goose-egg. Hard to believe, but the Astros are one win away from another World Series without a single RBI from Altuve. In Game 5, it was especially frustrating to watch him ground into multiple double plays. And for whatever reason, he's been unable to launch the long ball. Perhaps he'll be due in Game 6, but as of now, definitely can't argue MVP status.
Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander:
Although Cole pitched a gem on Sunday night, with nine strikeouts and only three hits and one earned run over seven innings, the five earned runs coughed up in his Game 1 loss make it tough to consider him the MVP. Likewise, Verlander's four earned runs in his Game 2's loss act as a disqualification, at least at the moment. Game 6 could -- we hope -- change all that. A knockout performance to pick up his first World Series win, net the Astros the series, and overturn his trend of losing series clinchers would stand out as both a quantitative and qualitative argument for him to be MVP.
It's a great story of an unheralded player suddenly stepping up when it matters most. Chirinos, who was hitless in the entire ALCS against the Yankees, hit home runs in back-to-back games at Nationals Park. He's also batting .364 for the series. The argument against Chirinos would be that both home runs came when the Astros were already ahead. However, there's an argument to be made that they were heavy psychological blows. In Game 3, Chirinos' home run came in the sixth inning, as starter Anibal Sanchez was trying to keep the Astros lead to 3-1. Chirinos, who earlier in the night punched a base hit to right field (his first hit since the Tampa Bay series!), suddenly unleashed and went Carlton Fisk by knocking one off the left foul pole to give the Astros a 4-1 lead for good. Similarly, in Game 4, starter Patrick Corbin was trying to keep the Astros lead to 2-0. Chirinos' mammoth 404-foot shot made it 4-0 Astros, and the Nationals' fightback never seemed the same after that. Not a bad choice for MVP.
Not a traditional choice to go with a reliever, but how good has Will Harris been out of the bullpen. This one's less about the numbers and more about the magnitude of the situations. But let's start with the numbers, anyway. In three games, Harris has pitched 3 1/3 innings and given up just two hits while striking out four batters. Then the situations: in Game 3, Harris came in to relieve Brad Peacock in the sixth inning. Peacock had walked two batters, and recorded only one out, leaving Harris to deal with the top of the Nationals' order with two men on and the Astros trying to preserve a 4-1 lead. One swing of the bat could tie the game. All Harris did was strike out Trea Turner and get Mark Eaton to ground out to end the inning. Then he went back out in the seventh to retire the heart of the order, including a three-pitch strikeout of Juan Soto. Then in Game 4, almost the same situation. Only this time, Josh James issued two walks and recorded only one out. The Astros had a 4-0 lead, and one swing could make it 4-3. Harris had to come in to face the heart of the Nationals' order. Despite giving up a hit to Rendon to start, he got Soto to ground out and struck out Howie Kendrick to end the threat. Harris's contribution towards preserving those Astros leads can't be overstated.
Tough to issue an MVP from only one start, but what a start it was. For a rookie to come in and give up only two hits in a World Series start is unfathomable. Urquidy's pitch selection was immaculate, like a seasoned veteran's. The only problem is that he pitched for only five innings. Not a problem for his performance, but a bit brief if you want to be considered for MVP, especially if it's your only game.
The Grand Slam was of course the crowning offensive moment of the series so far, but it was more insult added to injury in a game on which the Astros already had a good hold. Beyond that, Bregman's .182 average for the series just doesn't cut it. We'll be rooting for him to continue breaking out of that funk in Game 6, though.
La Piña is batting .318 for the series and has four RBIs, but it's his defense that's really stood out. He's made some crucial plays at first, no two more apparent than the near-identical pair of catch-and-dive groundouts that twice robbed Trea Turner of singles and the chance to give the Nationals base-running threats. We already knew of Yuli's capabilities at first, but his fielding during the series has been stellar even by his standards. Probably not enough to be considered an MVP, but who cares?
Of course, we have to look at the guy who already has a World Series MVP, right? This one is so interesting to me, because so many of Springer's at-bats have looked uncomfortable. He looks like he's pressing, and it seems he takes pitches he should really swing at, and vice versa. But the numbers bail him out, as they often do. He's batting .316 for the series. He has four RBIs, and he's scored five runs, more than any other Astro. He's also walked six times, and all this accounts for his 1.217 OPS in the series, higher than any Astro who has played in every game. He also hit homers to keep Game 1 close and put Game 5 away. Springer didn't seem like an obvious choice, but there you go.
So, who do you think is the front-runner at this point? Who do you think might step up in Game 6?