OAKLAND -- With one week remaining in the regular season, a pair of Astros players are in the running for the American League batting title. First baseman Yuli Gurriel and outfielder Michael Brantley were both hitting .315 entering Sunday, which was tied for second in the league behind Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his .317 average.
Brantley is on the injured list with knee soreness and the Astros are hoping to get him back before the end of the season. Brantley needs nine more plate appearances to reach 502, which is needed in order to qualify for the batting title. Gurriel was in the lineup Sunday, hoping to continue his surge. He has multiple hits in eight of his previous 13 games, hitting .365 (19-for-52) in that span to make a push.
“I would like to [win it],” Gurriel said. “It’s really a big deal to win a batting title, especially here in the big leagues. It’s a really big deal.”
Gurriel won a batting title in his final year in Cuba’s Serie Nacional in the 2015-16 season, hitting .500 (87-for-174). He said he came close a few other times in Cuba, mostly while playing 12 seasons for Sancti Spiritus (2001-12). Gurriel’s resurgence comes after he hit just .232 in last year’s shortened season.
“You always feel a little bit of pressure, but I try not to think about it and not pay too much attention to that so I can do the best job [I can] and let things flow in the field out there,” he said.
Gurriel knows Guerrero very well, with Gurriel’s younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., a key member of the Blue Jays.
“He’s a tremendous hitter,” Yuli said of Guerrero. “He’s been doing great all year long and has kept it up all year long. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for what he’s done.”
Gurriel said Guerrero’s Blue Jays teammates give him grief for the 37-year-old Gurriel pushing in the race for a batting title.
“They’re always joking about that all the time, telling him, ‘Hey, the old guy is catching up to you,’” Gurriel said. “It’s fun and games, and that’s what I’m about.”
The only Astros player to win a batting title is Jose Altuve, who did it three times (2014, 2016-17). Altuve said he’s not surprised Gurriel was able to bounce back after last year’s “weird year” and is rooting for him to join him as Houston’s batting title winners.
“I’m always rooting for him,” Altuve said. “First of all, we play on the same team and because he’s a good teammate, good person off the field. I think he deserves everything that is happening to him.”