Four and a half games ahead of Oakland in the American League West, Houston is breathing a little easier thanks to an indispensable arm in its rotation. For Los Angeles, a charismatic power hitter consistently batting in the bottom leg of the lineup is taking care of business at the pinnacle of a heated National League West race. For their efforts, the Astros' Justin Verlander and the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig were recognized on Monday as the AL and NL Players of the Week, presented by W.B. Mason.
The 2011 winner of the AL Cy Young Award, Verlander is blazing his resume for a second one. The seven-time All-Star matched his career single-season-high strikeout total (269) on Sunday against the D-backs by fanning 11 batters -- including seven of the first nine he faced. It marked the eighth time in his 32 starts this year that Verlander struck out at least 11 in a game. The right-hander helped the Astros win 12 of its past 14 games, spinning two gems in that span.
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Verlander (16-9, 2.67 ERA) allowed just three runs on nine hits with 21 strikeouts across his past two starts (14 innings) for the Astros. He's dealing a 1.71 ERA on a 3-0 record -- holding batters to a .164 clip -- in the month of September. It is the 35-year-old's eighth career Player of the Week honor, and first since April of this year.
"The ability to go out there and chew up some innings and help save the bullpen is something I could help us get wins in other games besides just my own," Verlander said to reporters on Sunday. "... I want to try to maintain that feeling moving forward. This would be the right time to get hot."
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The Puig who was projected to break out this year is heating up at the right time -- earning his third career Player of the Week honor and first since May 2014. The 27-year-old right fielder helped pull the Dodgers a half-game behind the Rockies in the NL West by virtue of the long ball. Puig swatted three home runs on Saturday afternoon against the Cardinals after going deep twice on Friday. It was the first three-homer game of Puig's six-year Major League Baseball career.
"The Wild Horse had a big week. You saw on his Twitter, he said he had a big week. Thank God for the big week," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Yasiel, when he's good, the energy obviously, guys feed off it. The fans feed off it, we feed off it. We needed every bit of it, so hopefully it continues this week."
Puig hit .429/.500/1.190 with a 1.690 OPS with five homers, nine RBIs, seven runs scored, three walks, a double and a stolen base over his past seven games. The right fielder became only the ninth Dodger in club history with back-to-back multihomer games. Puig is the first Dodger to accomplish the feat since Cody Bellinger last June -- who was the first since Adrian Beltre in 2004. With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Dodgers enter Monday in a tie with the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"I feel good at the plate," Puig told reporters on Saturday. "I'm looking for good pitches to hit and trying to hit the ball in the air like all of my teammates and coaches talk to me about every day. They tell me, 'Hit the ball in the air and stop hitting ground balls.' God blessed me with these two games."