Jose Altuve almost always finds himself in the spotlight these days. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve continues to be the face and heartbeat of these Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dallas Keuchel seemed genuinely touched by the tribute video the Astros played and the love from the fans. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley is a professional hitter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Urquidy's slider can provide plenty of strikeouts. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Abraham Toro didn't pout on getting sent back to the minors. He tried to make himself better. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dallas Keuchel is happy to be back in Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Tim Anderson and the White Sox are one of the best teams in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa are the two oldest managers in baseball. And they could meet again in the postseason. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros fans are as passionate as ever. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Chas McCormick is flying across the field on defense too. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Baseballs and sticky stuff are the talk of the game right now. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dylan Cease has been pitching at an elite level for the White Sox. But he found out the Astros' offense is no joke. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dallas Keuchel will pitch against his "son" Lance McCullers Jr. on Sunday. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez can hit home runs in bunches. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro is a steady presence. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Chas McCormick is swinging for impact with these Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Abraham Toro knows that filling in for Alex Bregman is no easy task. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Urquidy is established himself as one of the Astros stalwart starters. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dallas Keuchel found the Minute Maid Park crowd much more welcoming than facing the Astros hitters. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Urquidy just keeps putting up quality starts. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez got plunked with a fastball. And then seemingly just shook it off. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa is making the most of his walk year. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Myles Straw brings serious speed to the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is hotter than a slab of globally warmed Las Vegas asphalt. He is suddenly hitting home runs at a pace an in-his-prime Barry Bonds would appreciate, reminding his baseball lifer manager of all-time sluggers past. But that is not how Altuve is driving the 2021 Astros.
He is doing that by doing what he always does — being one of the best leaders in all of sports. Even when most of the baseball world tried to recast Jose Altuve as the ultimate villain in the wake of the Astros’ electronic sign stealing scandal, his teammates never wavered. If anything, they became even more convinced of his powers.
And Jose Altuve’s biggest power comes in leading a team. This 31-year-old former American League MVP brings clubhouses together and his effect is certainly being felt by these retooled Astros.
“He’s a great teammate first and foremost,” Astros outfielder Michael Brantley says. “And a phenomenal player. He’s on a roll right now. I hope he keeps it going. He’s swinging the bat really well for us. And it’s fun. It’s fun to hit behind him. It’s fun to watch him.
“It’s fun to be a part of — to be his teammate.”
Part of the way Altuve endears himself to his teammates is by never trying to take any of the credit for himself. But he deserves plenty of it for the Astros’ current run — and Thursday night’s 10-2 dismantling of the American League leading Chicago White Sox.
Altuve gets things started by beating out an infield single to leadoff the bottom of the first, setting the stage for Brantley’s three-run homer. He hits a deep sacrifice fly to bring Houston’s seventh run home and follows that with a big drive (396 feet) just above one of the sponsor signs in left center field in the sixth inning.
That is Altuve’s fourth home run in three games and his eighth in the last 10 games. It’s no coincidence that the Astros are 8-2 in that stretch. This Houston franchise is at its best when Jose Altuve is leading the way. It’s been that way since 2014 when the Astros became competitive again. And it’s still that way today.
“He continues to amaze and just hit the ball out of the ballpark,” says Astros manager Dusty Baker, who’s seen plenty in his 50-plus years in baseball.
“It is like amazing to me,” Baker continues. “I’ve seen some of the best power hitters of all time go on streaks like this. But hey, just keep it going. And we’ll take all that he can give us.”
Jose Altuve is not going to challenge Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Major League home run crown. Even if his last week makes it seem like he could. But Altuve is going to continue to do what he always seems to do. Lead one of the best teams in baseball.
These 2021 Astros are starting to look like that again. And it’s no coincidence that is happening when Altuve is sizzling, showing the way. Alex Bregman is hurting — and sidelined for the foreseeable future. A dominant, strikeout ace is not walking through those clubhouse doors. And the bullpen still engenders about as much legitimate faith as a TV preacher who drives a Ferrari.
Yet, Altuve’s Astros roll on, moving 12 games over .500 with that beatdown of White Sox pitching. And yes, they’re still Altuve’s Astros. This team is driven by one of the most competitive and proud forces in the game.
Altuve’s Astros always seem to show up in the big spots. And this series with the White Sox is certainly large as far as regular season matchups go.
“We all know this is a big series,” Brantley says.
Jose Altuve and a Measuring Stick Series
The White Sox come into Minute Maid with the best record in the American League. They also topped the league in run differential. But the Astros waste little time in showing they are every bit as dangerous as Tony La Russa’s team.
They grab a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Brantley’s three run shot into the right field stands. By the end of the fourth, it’s 7-0 Houston with usually electric White Sox starter Dylan Cease already having been sent to the showers.
“It’s fun to hit behind him. It’s fun to watch him. It’s fun to be a part of — to be his teammate.” — Michael Brantley on Jose Altuve
It is clinical display of why the Astros will be a team that no one wants to play in the playoffs. Timely big hits. A little small ball. Seven innings of keeping the opposing hitters almost completely off balance from Jose Urquidy.
“They’ve been together several years now,” La Russa says. “They’ve been tested, played a lot of winning baseball against good pitchers, have solid approaches. Right now, they’re at the top in a lot of things you measure as far as putting the ball in play and not chasing.
“They have a bunch of guys who are professional hitters.”
In other words, Altuve’s Astros know to win.
Of course, the Astros still need to make October to be their usual force in the postseason. In a stacked together American League, with no expanded playoffs this season, that is anything but guaranteed. Dusty Baker’s team currently holds the second (and final) AL wildcard spot. But Houston is only a game up on a surprising Cleveland team and four games up on a Yankees squad that could rediscover how to hit any day now.
Then again, the Astros (40-28) are also just two games back of the stubborn Oakland A’s (43-27) for the American League West division lead.
Altuve and the Astros are driving for something. Again. Reaching for a higher level, one big swing at a time.
“No,” Altuve says simply when someone asks if he is surprised by the home run streak he’s on. “I’m looking for good pitches to hit. Thanks God, I’m hitting the ball pretty hard. And if I can continue to do that and help my team, that’s all I want.”
Jose Altuve’s biggest power comes in leading a team. This 31-year-old former American League MVP brings clubhouses together and his effect is certainly being felt by these retooled Astros.
Any thought that Altuve is the product of a sign stealing scheme should have been long ago banished. But Altuve is obliterating it now. He has 16 home runs in 57 games this season and is hitting .298. With pitchers putting sticky stuff on baseballs, Altuve still hit. Pre sign stealing scandal and post sign stealing scandal, Jose Altuve hit. In his prime and at age 31, he hits.
That is what Altuve does. Hits — and leads. Altuve is putting together a Hall of Fame worthy career, driving a team that’s become one of the most consistent winners in baseball all the way.
Dallas Keuchel, as responsible as anyone for starting this Astros run with that gem he threw in Yankees Stadium in the 2015 wildcard game, is back at Minute Maid this weekend with the White Sox. He receives a classy video tribute and a strong ovation from the crowd before the game that clearly touches him. Keuchel pats his chest over his heart as he tips his cap in appreciation.
Then, he watches his old buddy Jose Altuve rip out his newest team’s heart.
Keuchel is not surprised by anything Altuve does. No one should be. This is who Jose Altuve is. One of the best leaders in all of sports.