Jose Altuve, Astros Clinch 5th AL West Title in 6 Years with Win vs. Rays

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 20, 2022

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JULY 22: Yordan Alvarez #44 of the Houston Astros celebrates with Alex Bregman #2 after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on July 22, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are champions of the American League West for the fifth time in six years.

They secured the division title with a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.


Champs of the AL West once again! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CLINCHED?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CLINCHED</a> <a href="https://t.co/mA6tYVOcjk">pic.twitter.com/mA6tYVOcjk</a>

Houston found itself in a familiar position this offseason after Carlos Correa signed with the Minnesota Twins. A year earlier, George Springer bolted to join the Toronto Blue Jays, which followed Gerrit Cole signing a record-setting deal with the New York Yankees ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Richard Justice @richardjustice

<a href="https://t.co/jLGAaM4Owv">pic.twitter.com/jLGAaM4Owv</a>

Some of the faces change, but the success remains the same. This year's Astros team has already improved upon its 95-67 record in 2021 and is poised to be the fifth squad in franchise history to hit 100 wins.

Yordan Alvarez has helped to offset Correa's absence offensively. The 2019 AL Rookie of the Year is enjoying a career year. Through 123 games, he has hit 37 home runs and posted a .304/.406/.626 slash line.

Alex Bregman has enjoyed a return to form as well. His .846 OPS and 140 OPS+ are on pace to be his highest since 2019.

That's to say nothing of the excellent contributions of Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker.

As good as this offense is, pitching might be what propels Houston to the Fall Classic.

On the mound, Justin Verlander hasn't missed a beat after Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2021 season. The two-time Cy Young winner is the MLB leader in ERA (1.78) and sports a 2.64 FIP and an 0.83 WHIP.

Verlander battled a calf injury recently and threw five no-hit innings in his first start back. It doesn't appear that will be much of an issue ahead of the postseason.

Framber Valdez has been the rotation's workhorse. The 28-year-old southpaw has logged 185.2 innings and gone the distance on three occasions. His 26 quality starts are the best across the majors.

As if finding a breakthrough against Verlander or Valdez isn't difficult enough, manager Dusty Baker can lean on Will Smith, Ryne Stanek, Hector Neris, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly in high-leverage situations.

The Astros are showing no signs of slowing down, and a third trip to the World Series in four seasons could be in the cards.