(SportsRadio 610) -- The Astros still have to win two more games before they can lose one.
After winning the last two ALCS games against the Rays, the Astros trail 3-2 in the series. They will pitch lefty Framber Valdez on Friday in Game 6, and if all goes well for them, Lance McCullers in Game 7 on Saturday.
There is enough credit to go around. Carlos Correa’s walk-off shot in Game 5 stands out. George Springer homering on the first pitch of that game is also a flashpoint for how the Astros are fighting to dig themselves out of the 3-0 hole.
Even Jose Altuve, despite the throwing errors on defense and base-running mishaps on offense, has been key. Altuve’s hit a first-inning home run in three of the five games, and he walked in the first inning Friday.
But if the Astros are able to pull off this series comeback, it’s not one of those household names who pitcher Lance McCullers believes should be the ALCS MVP.
It’s veteran catcher Martin Maldonado, who’s proven to be a key component to guiding this young pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen.
“That may not happen, but he’s been the MVP of our season,” McCullers said Friday before Game 6. McCullers is the Astros’ expected starter if there is a Game 7.
“He was, in my opinion, the MVP of the ALDS, in the wild-card round, and continues to be probably the most underrated player on our roster. It’s all about offensive numbers nowadays. But when you have someone who you’re able to rely on and you have someone who’s able to know when to slow the game down, when to step up and tell the manager, ‘this is what we’re doing, this is where we’re rolling’, his will to win, the grit that he has is something I admire a lot. What he’s been able to do and how he’s been able to help our young pitching staff through the season and now for the postseason. … He’s just the rock of this team and I have a lot of admiration for him and the player he is.”
Five rookies pitched for the Astros in Friday’s bullpen game, which tied the most ever in a single postseason game.
It’s how Maldonado has been able to communicate with the young pitchers as well as veterans like McCullers and Zack Greinke that’s been so valuable to the team.
“Having Maldonado back there, especially, is an extremely valuable veteran to have to calm down such a young pitching staff,” Astros closer Ryan Pressly told SportsRadio 610 after Game 5. “A lot of guys just trust what he puts down and how he reads swings, how he goes with the flow of the game. You can’t do anything but just tip your hat to him. That guy is working nonstop, on and off the field.
“(Wednesday night), he sent a group message of words of encouragement, keeping us all locked in. Having that guy back there is a huge piece for us.”
Maldonado’s also not too shabby offensively. He turned on the jets for a double he eventually scored on from a Michael Brantley hit on Thursday.
Maldonado is batting .272 in the ALCS going into Game 6. He started 46 of the Astros’ 60 games, the first catcher in club history to start that many through the first 60 since Brad Ausmus in 2007.
Maldonado ranked first among American League catchers in walks (27), second in RBI (24) and fifth in OPS (.727) this season.