BOSTON -- Now that Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has won his third American League batting title, is the AL Most Valuable Player Award next?
Altuve capped his tremendous regular season in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, going 0-for-2 as the leadoff hitter to finish with a career-best .346 batting average that was easily tops in the big leagues (Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies hit .331) for the second time in his career. It was his third AL batting title in four years.
"This one is a little bit more special," Altuve said. "This is the first time I won a batting title and the team is going to the playoffs. I'm just trying to do everything I can to help this team, and right now, starting from tomorrow, everybody is going to zero wins, zero losses, your average is zero. I'm going to try to do the same thing to help my team win."
With 204 hits, Altuve is the fourth right-handed hitter in big league history to reach 200 hits in four consecutive seasons and is the first player to lead his league in hits outright for four seasons in a row. Ichiro Suzuki led the AL in hits from 2006-10, but he tied with Boston's Dustin Pedroia in '08.
Altuve had 24 homers, 81 RBIs, a .410 on-base percentage, .547 slugging percentage (.957 OPS), scored 112 runs and swiped 32 bases. He struck out 84 times in 662 plate appearances while leading the Astros to the AL West title.
"He's the heart and soul of what we're about," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I'm proud of him, because he's been through the lean years and now he's reaping the benefits of the buildup of being a good team. He played well when the team wasn't good, he's playing well now. He continues to get better. That's a very underrated aspect of him, is how hungry he is to get better and how much he loves to work on his swing or work on his defense or work on his baserunning. For him, as a quiet leader on the team by example, he's everything of what's good about us."
Altuve's consistency was amazing. He batted .347 prior to the All-Star break, .344 after the All-Star break. He hit .353 against left-handers, .344 against right-handers. He batted .311 at home, .381 on the road -- the second-highest in the Majors in the last 50 years (Ichiro hit .405 in '04). Altuve also hit a Major League-best .448 in close and late situations.
"It's crazy to think of how routine he's making 200 hits," Hinch said. "That's four years in a row and we just sort of expect that. It's not easy, and it's not easy to be as consistent as he's been. … From a batting title standpoint, going into any year, most experts would expect him to win a batting title, which is insane to think about given how many good hitters there are in the league."
When asked about the personal achievement of which he's most proud, Altuve said the AL Silver Slugger Award, which he's won the last three years as the top offensive player at his position. "I think for me being 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, to win a Silver Slugger … that's my favorite one," he said.
Altuve and the Yankees' Aaron Judge are the two leading candidates for the AL MVP award, which is announced in November. It's hard to compare the players, because their games are so different, but Altuve isn't focused on that yet.
"I would feel really proud," Altuve said. "For me, we're still in the middle of the season. We haven't done what want to do, so we're still facing the playoffs and have to go out there and play good and do our goal. Our goal is go to the World Series."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.