Perhaps on the cusp of earning his first AL MVP award, Jose Altuve is also a new father and a member of a team with World Series aspirations. He says he has had to battle for every hit in his career. He spoke with Marly Rivera on reaching 200 hits, being compared with Craig Biggio, and prepping for a long playoff run.
Jose, how have you been able to keep up the consistency and extraordinary caliber of play you've had this season, where you are one of the favorites to win AL MVP?
I actually find that (question) quite funny because I really feel like this season, despite hitting .350 and the 20-something homers, it's a season that it's been very hard for me to go out there every day and get things done. Thank God the results and the stats are there, but it has not been easy at all. Believe it or not, I have had to battle for every single hit. To even be considered for an MVP award is fairly awesome for me.
I've realized pitchers are making more adjustments this year; they have more of a plan. They don't throw just any pitch over home plate. I'll keep getting pitched in the same way, and when I make them change the way they're pitching when I start hitting them well, they will change it up. I've had to work pretty hard for every single hit I've had this year.
In the past, (Carlos) Correa has talked to me extensively about the differences in your pregame prep. He's told me you're a "natural" -- that you just show up and can go 4-for-4. So what has been the difference this season?
They're putting more technology into the game -- computers, numbers. The other team already knows which pitchers you can and you can't hit. And if they have someone in their bullpen who has qualities that will match up better against you and will not allow you to be successful, they will definitely bring him in.
They already know what count you're hitting in, what pitches you like to hit, if there's a man on first what do they have to throw, and I think that has really made things more difficult for me this year. I've had to become a student of baseball.
It's no longer just going out on the field and fielding some ground balls and thinking, "OK, I'm going to react this way to this pitch." Now I have to really sit in front of the computer for a while to study the numbers: "In this count and in this count they are throwing this at me." It's something new for me. But I think that if you want to be successful in baseball, you have to combine what the guys who work with computers in the office say along with your skills. It's how you're going to be able to survive in baseball today.
Are there any specific numbers or stats that you believe have helped you the most?
It's not an absolute thing. The first month I wasn't hitting the slider and the guys came and told me, "Jose, you're hitting .150 when they throw you a slider and you know they're going to throw you more sliders." Then I adjusted and I started hitting the slider more. Then it was the fastball outside. They came up to me: "Jose, you're already hitting the slider, but now they're throwing you fastballs outside." It's not something that I'm able to do alone. (I get help from) hitting coaches, from the guys in there working together on the reports, and I think that's how I can go out and be successful day after day.
Another 200-hit season: Did you ever think this could ever happen?
You're always going to believe in yourself, and I have to thank God for that, but it's pretty hard to believe that you can make it to the big leagues and that you can possibly get 200 hits three years in a row. I feel very proud. I want to continue helping my team. And I want to keep getting hits because I think we have a bright future.
Miguel Cabrera is the only Venezuelan to be league MVP (he did it twice); what would it mean for you to be the second one?
I think all major league players dream of being named MVP. But I think our country would appreciate it more, in a team where there are Venezuelans who are doing so well, like it's the case with Marwin (Gonzalez), who's really having one of the best seasons for a utility player. I think for our homeland of Venezuela it would be big for us to win a World Series, and we're working hard toward that.
Does it put a little pressure on you when you hear comparisons to a Hall of Famer like Craig Biggio?
Biggio is one of the best second basemen to ever play in the major leagues, a player who played hard every day, had 3,000 hits. And the fact that, I'm not really being compared to him, but my name being mentioned next to his, that for me is an honor.
Is there a team you'd rather face in the first round of the playoffs because you consider the matchup to be better for the Astros?
No, none. You know that in the playoffs everyone starts from zero. No matter what team you have to face, if you want to make it to the World Series, you have to get through two rounds against very good teams that are going to be hot. Hopefully things will go well for us; I have faith that our team will play very well.
How do you see this series at Fenway Park as a preview of the next round?
We are going to be still trying to catch up to the Indians. It's about going out there and playing hard. But no matter who wins the series, when it comes to the playoffs, it will be different. We still don't know if we are going to face them or not, if they are going to face our best pitchers, or if we'll save it for the playoffs. I think this series lends itself to be quite something.
Was it better to go through the lows earlier in the season and end on a high note?
Yes, of course. I believe this team, even with the good season we've had, we've gone through everything. We've been through some really good times when we've won most games. There was a time when we lost I don't know how many games. We went through the hurricane in Houston. We've been through a lot of things, and I think that's made this team strong enough mentally for the playoffs.
Has this season been more special now that you have your first child?
Yes. She's changed a lot in my life. I get home now and everything is about her. If I'm not playing, it's all about her. I'm very happy that now, although she's really young and has no idea what's going on, that she's going to be there supporting me in the playoffs.
What tells you this team has what it takes to go beyond the first round?
Experience. Carlos (Correa) has already been in the playoffs, at only 20. (George) Springer, Marwin, they've already been in the playoffs. (Carlos) Beltran has played in (many) playoff games. (Justin) Verlander has also played in (many) playoff games. I think that experience will serve us a lot in what's next.
We have too much talent. Wherever you look you see talent, starting with Carlos Correa, who for me along with Mike Trout, is one of the best players in the major leagues. We have a young guy at third base who, despite his youth is having an incredible season, especially in the second half, Alex Bregman. We have a player like George Springer who has hit over 30 home runs. For a leadoff hitter, that's quite incredible. We have a player who has no position but has over 20 home runs and is leading the team in RBIs, and that's Marwin Gonzalez. We have Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and now Verlander. Not everyone is used to having so many good players on their team.