Michael Brantley knows what it takes for the Astros to win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley can still scorch baseballs for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve stands at the heart of everything these Houston Astros do. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena is already becoming something of a matinee star with these Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Former Astros manager A.J. Hinch is having a tough second season in Detroit. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Framber Valdez works and pitches hard for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Orbit always has something going on at an Astros game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley is the wise older leader of a dynasty in many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley's return is a major boost to the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve remains a force on the base paths for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros star Jose Altuve looks up to Miguel Cabrera, his fellow countryman, in so many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley is one of the most professional hitters in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley still stands at the center of almost everything these Houston Astros do. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena's distinctive one long orange sleeve is just part of this Astros rookie's swag. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Miguel Cabrera still knows how to rake for the Detroit Tigers. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena just keeps grabbing big moments. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Ryan Pressly is one of the more elite closers in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley remains the heart, soul and conscience of these Houston Astros in many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Rookie Spencer Torkelson gives the Tigers a potential future building block. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve loves scoring big runs for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Detroit Tigers icon Miguel Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer and playing legend. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Ryan Pressly makes the Astros very confident about the ninth inning. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley still makes plenty of things happen for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley can still deliver clutch moments for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Ryan Pressly appreciates every save he gets for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley is a hit machine. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros left fielder Michael Bantley, with wife Mariah and children, Michael Brantley III, Melissa Brantley (Photo by Todd Parker, STP Images)
Carlos Correa is gone, waiting for the Houston Astros in Minnesota with a busted up finger and hurting power numbers. George Springer has been gone, with his leadoff home run magic boosting Canada’s team. Yet the Houston Astros are still the Houston Astros, still one of the surest things in all of sports, still one of the lineups you least want to see if you’re protecting a lead. Don’t discount what a big part Michael Brantley plays in this.
You can see Brantley’s influence all over the Astros’ current seven game winning streak. Just when it looks like A.J. Hinch’s staggering Detroit Tigers are ready to end it at five, holding a lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, there is Brantley lacing a ball into right field to score Jose Altuve from first and tie the game. And Brantley never stops running, turning the hit into a triple as Altuve draws a throw at home.
That’s Michael Brantley. The guy who will turn 35 this upcoming Sunday, the vet in his 14th Major League season, still delivers all-out effort. Without even considering doing anything less.
“Oh, absolutely,” Brantley says when I ask if he thinks he has a chance at a triple when he hits that ball. “Put your head down and keep going. I know Jose’s at first and he can run really well. My job’s to get to third base with one out.
“And obviously a lot of things can happen from there.”
Michael Brantley always does his job. With an immense pride — and a quiet but still commanding confidence. And his teammates cannot help but notice. Which is invaluable for an Astros’ culture that’s outliving both George Springer and Carlos Correa’s beloved tenures in Houston.
Brantley is not technically part of the Core Astros, the few who have been key contributors since that 2017 World Championship. He didn’t arrive till 2019. But Brantley’s been part of two World Series runs in the last four years. And more than ever, he’s helping keep that flame alive.
After mentoring George Springer, who grew into one of his closest buddies, Brantley is mentoring Kyle Tucker. The 25-year-0ld Tucker is talented enough to play as many impactful years in the Big Leagues as Brantley has. He should challenge for an MVP award at some point soon. Having Brantley around may help Tucker get there.
Tucker’s already put up two game-winning RBI in this seven game win streak that’s pushed the Astros’ record to 18-11, two wins behind both the Yankees and the Mets for the most Ws in all of baseball. Tucker beat the Tigers’ shift with a single through the infield for a walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday. He drew a two-out bases loaded walk (on five pitches) to push across the go-ahead run after Brantley’s triple in the eighth inning on Saturday.
Watching Brantley, a fellow left-handed hitter, take his at-bats against a pitcher he’s going to face several batters later is part of Tucker’s routine. And it certainly helped before the closest call of this Astros’ winning spree.
“Brantley’s at-bat, (Tigers reliever Michael Fulmer) he was throwing his cutters down,” Tucker says. “Even the one he hit was down and in.”
So Tucker looked for similar pitches – and showed the patience to wait for a good one, contently taking a go-ahead walk.
Of course, winning the game with a walk is not possible without Brantley’s triple. Michael Brantley is not some mere ceremonial mentor. He is still also a very productive Big League player, one who helps the Astros offense go.
This is not Carlos Beltran for the Astros in 2017, who became more of a mentor (arguably for bad, considering his role in the electronic sign stealing scandal) than a hitter in the postseason. Michael Brantley has plenty left to give on the field while driving these Astros.
Sometimes he’s even waking up his younger talented teammates when it’s needed. By hitting and hustling into a triple.
“It was nice,” Tucker says when I ask about the Brantley provided lift. “We tie the game right there and have a guy on third with less than two outs. So just with that situation, it was looking a lot better for us to possibly take the lead right there.
“And we end up taking the lead right there and winning the game because of it.”
Because of that, the winning streak keeps going for at least two more games, with the Astros following Brantley’s hustle triple Saturday night win with a rather easy 5-0 victory in the Sunday series finale. This is what championship contending seasons are made of. Little moments that add up to bunches of wins.
Michael Brantley, a True Swinging Mentor
Michael Brantley is helping a team with young stars (the 25-year-old Tucker and the 24-year-old Yordan Alvarez) and a young potential future star (24-year-old wonder rookie Jeremy Pena) see — and grab — those moments.
“Put your head down and keep going. I know Jose (Altuve’s) at first and he can run really well. My job’s to get to third base with one out.” — Michael Brantley on hustling to a triple.
The outfielder who almost followed Springer to Toronto two years ago is still ultra valuable to the closest thing the American League has to a recent dynasty. And if these Astros want to avoid joining those 1990 era Braves as one-time champs who only flirted with much more, Michael Brantley will be an important part of any statement that’s delivered this season.
The “old” guy who keeps putting up professional at-bats, the man who’s hit at least .300 in every season where he’s played more than 100 games since 2014, the almost 35-year-old dubbed Uncle Mike who still hustles his way to a triple, keeps showing the way.
In many ways, Brantley is the heart, soul and conscience of this continually remade Houston near dynasty.
An Astros drop off?
Not with Michael Brantley around, still doing his thing day after day, pushing his teammates to uphold the standards.