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Bregman, Astros strive to repeat playoff success

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- The postseason was built for players like Alex Bregman. It was built for players who crave the spotlight on the field, who want the ball hit to them when the game is the line and who want to be in the batter's box in the ninth inning with two outs.

In his brief Major League career, no moment has been too big for Bregman, who made a name for himself last year when he drove in the winning run in Game 5 of the World Series against the Dodgers and earned an All-Star nod this year with relentless determination and unparalleled makeup.

HOUSTON -- The postseason was built for players like Alex Bregman. It was built for players who crave the spotlight on the field, who want the ball hit to them when the game is the line and who want to be in the batter's box in the ninth inning with two outs.

In his brief Major League career, no moment has been too big for Bregman, who made a name for himself last year when he drove in the winning run in Game 5 of the World Series against the Dodgers and earned an All-Star nod this year with relentless determination and unparalleled makeup.

"He never ceases to amaze me with how controlled he is in the big moments, whether it's any part of the game, any situation, any pitcher, any pressure situation," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "He's had a ton of walk-offs, some of the biggest in franchise history."

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Bregman has led the Astros back to the postseason this year, with Game 1 of the American League Division Series set to start at 1:05 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park.

Bregman, 24, emerged as a force in the Astros' lineup this year, leading the team in nearly every offensive category and being named the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. He hit .286 and set career highs in home runs (31), doubles (51), RBIs (103), walks (96), on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.532). He's the first player in history to have at least 30 homers and 50 doubles while playing the majority of his games at third base.

Bregman's performance came at a time when several of the Astros' other star players didn't match their 2017 numbers, including Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. If you ask Bregman, you'll get honesty. He expected and hoped to be playing at this level, but he'll never be satisfied.

"I think there's a ton of room to improve," Bregman said. "I was mad that I didn't do that last year, to be honest with you. I kind of had a bad year. It was definitely something I envisioned doing, and I think there's so much room to improve on both sides of the ball, and I look forward to working on it."

Bregman has grown into his role as a star player on the team, and he blends in well with the clubhouse. He speaks Spanish with Correa, Altuve and Yuli Gurriel, and this year, he orchestrated dugout stares into the television cameras following home runs that became as popular as fist bumps.

Video: HOU@OAK: Bregman stares into soul of camera after HR

When asked Thursday if he had anything special planned in the dugout for the postseason, Bregman was coy.

"There's going to be a lot of celebrations, but the main thing is just winning the game," Bregman said. "That's all we're focused on."

Bregman's desire to win started at a young age and blossomed at LSU, where Bregman talked a student manager into turning on the stadium lights late at night and hitting ground balls to him.

"I literally ended up giving him keys to the stadium, because it was impossible to keep him out of there," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

Bregman's ascent to star player makes a little more sense when you consider his background. His father, Sam, said Alex had a baseball at his side when he was brought home from the hospital after he was born. When he was five years old, he was playing shortstop on his T-ball team when he turned an unassisted triple play.

"All the other kids are playing with the ant hills in the outfield and their gloves on top of their head, and Alex is out there playing shortstop and watching everything that's going on and making sure he's getting outs," Sam Bregman said. "He's been obsessed with the game since Day 1."

Video: CLE@HOU Gm1: Bregman talks thriving in postseason

Sam Bregman, a lawyer in Albuquerque, N.M., knows a little about the game, as well. Stan Bregman, Sam's father and Alex's grandfather, had a law firm that represented the Washington Senators. Stan Bregman negotiated the sale of the team, which moved to Minneapolis and became the Twins. He later negotiated the hiring of Hall of Famer Ted Williams as the manager for a new Senators expansion team. Alex's father, Sam, used to sit on Williams' lap in the clubhouse.

The trophy Alex won for being named All-Star Game MVP is named after Williams, who signed a picture of Sam and him sitting together when Sam was a boy.

"I looked at that picture for 10 years growing up, and my dad was like, 'You've got to be the next guy to hit .400 in the big leagues,'" Alex Bregman said. "I think if anyone is going to do that, it might be Altuve."

Taken second overall in the 2015 Draft, Bregman sailed through the Minors and made his debut in '16, but he couldn't get going right away. Hinch saw that Bregman was cut from a different cloth, though, moved up him to the No. 2 spot in the batting order while he was struggling.

Video: CLE@HOU Gm1: Hinch, Verlander, Bregman on ALDS clash

"He's a baseball rat through and through," Hinch said. "When he's at the field, he's always studying, always thinking, always watching and he's smart. He's a smart player. He knows how to look for things. He knows how to lay off pitches he's not looking for. And I've watched him ask a million questions to different players that have come through here."

The lights shine much brighter now on Bregman than they ever did on the late-night field at LSU. He's a star player on the defending World Series championship team, and he is confident his team is headed for special October.

"I think that we can use the experience last year from the postseason, winning the World Series, to our advantage," Bregman said. "But the one thing that us winning the World Series last year did is drive us to win another one. That's been the only thing on our mind, to win that World Series. It's to win another one. This postseason doesn't start in the World Series. It's not a seven-game series against the National League team. We start against a very tough Indians team, so we'd better focus on the first pitch of Game 1."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Alex Bregman