FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What will Astros second baseman Jose Altuve do for an encore to his amazing American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning season in 2017? What can we expect from a rejuvenated Justin Verlander pitching the entire season in an Astros uniform?
On a team full of superstars and winners, Altuve and Verlander -- a pair of former AL MVPs -- are the cream of the talented crop. Altuve has emerged as one of the greatest hitters of his generation, and Verlander already has earned that status among pitchers. They're two of the biggest reasons the defending World Series champions believe they can make another run at the crown.
"We won the World Series last year and we got better this year," Verlander said. "That's a pretty good recipe for success. I'm excited to be here for a whole season."
Verlander, acquired in a trade with the Tigers last August which helped the Astros push strong into the postseason, has a Hall of Fame resume that includes an AL MVP Award and an AL Cy Young Award and the reputation as one of the game's best competitors. Altuve has five All-Star Game appearances, three batting titles and last year won his first AL MVP.
"Being the MVP last year, it's something I'm never going to forget," Altuve said. "For that, I've got to thank my teammates. They are the ones that play hard every day. ... I think they do all the heavy jobs and I just support them, and I'm one more player here in this clubhouse that wants to go out and win."
Believe it or not, Altuve wants to get better. That seems as if it would be difficult to do for a guy who's had at least 200 hits four seasons in a row, a player who is the first second baseman since Rod Carew (1977-78) to win consecutive batting titles.
"Something that I really want to do is be consistent," Altuve said. "You see Michael Trout and how good he is for many years. Robinson Cano, putting some really good seasons in a row. That's kind of like the player I want to be. I want to be consistent because that way I can help my team for not only one or two years, but I can help my team for many years."
What Verlander brings to the field is just as important as what he can bring to the clubhouse. The 35-year-old won 183 games in 13 years with the Tigers before the Astros traded for him in the seconds prior to the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline. Verlander was brilliant with Houston, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts before being named MVP of the AL Championship Series.
Verlander doesn't show signs of slowing down. He put together a terrific second half last year, first for the Tigers and then the Astros. He credits a change with the way his right elbow tracks for helping him find his groove in the middle of last season.
"The first couple of months of the season I was trying to find it and I couldn't really get there, but I kept pressing forward and kept looking forward, and when I did find it, I didn't look back," Verlander said.