Is there a more underappreciated player in baseball than Astros veteran Michael Brantley, a dominant, middle-of-the-lineup force who suddenly finds himself on the precipice of MLB history? The Houston veteran delivered the goods again in Friday’s ALCS Game 1 against Boston, singling in the fifth inning to extend his postseason hitting streak to 16 games, one off the major-league record held by Red Sox legend Manny Ramirez. Over that span, the 34-year-old has hit an impressive .348 (24-for-69) with three homers, 13 RBI and eight runs scored.
Brantley has been at this for over a decade, yet the baseball masses continue to sleep on him. Perhaps as consistent as any player in the sport, the five-time All-Star has collected an average of .299 or better in seven of his last eight seasons, the lone exception being his lost 2016 campaign when injuries limited him to just 11 games. Brantley admittedly didn’t hit for much power this year (eight homers in 508 plate appearances), but he finished with the league’s second-highest contact rate—an even 90 percent—trailing only Angels infielder David Fletcher (91.4).
Brantley’s commitment to making contact, a rarity in today’s MLB, is a refreshing change of pace in a league increasingly inhabited by feast-or-famine sluggers like Joey Gallo and Javier Baez, who would rather swing for the fences than put the ball in play. To further illustrate that point, only Fletcher and Pittsburgh’s David Newman struck out at a lower rate than Brantley this year (10.4 percent compared to the league average of 23.2).
Brantley, who quietly ranks 17th among active big-leaguers with 1,571 career hits, will attempt to make history Saturday against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi, who he faced 11 times during the regular season (2-for-10 with a walk, a double and two RBI).