Alvarez muscling way into MVP discussion

June 22nd, 2022

HOUSTON -- For those who were ready to hand over the American League Most Valuable Player award to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge earlier this year, objects in Judge’s mirror may be closer than they appear. And when that object is an imposing 6-foot-5 slugger named , it’s probably worth monitoring closely.

Alvarez has put himself in the thick of the AL MVP race with a torrid June that he added to in Wednesday afternoon’s 5-3 win over the Mets with a pair of home runs, giving him three homers in the Astros’ two-game sweep of the Mets. Alvarez will bring his power show to the Big Apple beginning Thursday for a four-game series against the Yankees and Judge.

“I think whenever a player goes to New York and plays there, just really excited about the history of that team and the ballpark,” Alvarez said. “We know they’re a really good team so we’re just going to go out there and compete and try to win.

Alvarez and Judge is a tantalizing subplot for a showdown between the top two teams in the AL, two teams that have met three times in the playoffs since 2015, with the Astros eliminating the Yankees each time. Alvarez has mashed at Yankee Stadium in his career, slashing .400/.438/.933 in seven career regular-season games in the Bronx with five homers and nine RBIs.

The Astros swept the Mets in two games at Minute Maid Park in the first leg of a nine-game stretch against the Mets and the Yankees. Houston scored four runs in the first inning against Mets starter Carlos Carrasco with Alex Bregman hitting a two-run homer and Alvarez following with a solo shot to right field -- his 20th of the season.

“I think he is one of the best and every time you miss your spot he is going to get it,” Carrasco said. “It is what happened there in that at-bat."

In the third inning, Alvarez bashed another solo homer to right field off Carrasco to put the Astros ahead, 5-1. It was his fourth multi-homer game of the season and the 12th of his career, which includes a two-homer game against Gerrit Cole and the Yankees last year in New York.

“He is so locked in,” said Bregman, who got on base three times Wednesday ahead of Alvarez. “He’s swinging at good pitches to hit and it’s just beautiful to see.”

Alvarez’s first homer went 408 feet and his second one traveled 412 feet, according to Statcast, giving him 14 homers this year that have gone at least 400 feet. That trails Atlanta’s Austin Riley (16) and Judge (15) for the most in the Major Leagues. He’s the eighth player in Major League history to have 81 career homers in 294 games.

“Every time he comes up, we feel like there’s about to be a laser hit to left field or laser hit to right field or homer to center,” Bregman said. “He’s hitting the ball to all fields and it’s just special to watch.”

Alvarez, who signed a six-year, $115-million contract extension on June 6, is slashing .452/.518/.904 (1.422 OPS) with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 20 games since May 29. Entering Wednesday, he ranked second in the Majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), just behind Giancarlo Stanton (96.0) of the Yankees and ahead of Judge (95.7).

“He’s swinging the bat great,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “If exit speed means anything, he is at the top of the world in exit speed. Just some of them are exiting over the fence.”

Judge entered Wednesday’s game against the Rays slashing .300/.378/.644 with a Major League-league-leading 25 homers to go along with 50 RBIs. Meanwhile, Alvarez leads the Majors with a 1.064 OPS while slashing .315/.406/.648 with 21 homers and 51 RBIs in 61 games.

“I feel like they both have had unbelievable seasons,” Bregman said. “Now my job is to just get on base in front of [Alvarez]. I try to get to first base because I feel like every time I get there, he hits a home run.”

The Astros feel like they avoided catastrophe when Alvarez missed only one game Sunday after leaving Saturday's game with a hand injury. He returned to the lineup Tuesday and has done nothing but bolster his status as one of the game’s top sluggers.

“That injury could have been devastating to him,” Baker said. “I wanted to give him another day like I do with guys that were injured, but he told me he was ready, and apparently he was.”