Jose Altuve hit .346 to win the American League batting title for the second straight year before batting .533 in the ALDS to help the Houston Astros eliminate the Boston Red Sox.
As Houston prepares to host the New York Yankees on Friday night in Game 1 of its first league championship series since 2005, Altuve's teammates and coaches say what's better than his gaudy numbers is his approach: No matter how great his stats are, he always believes he can do better.
"He has four hits and he's like: 'Carlos I never had a five-hit game before, let me try to get the fifth hit,'" star shortstop Carlos Correa said. "He's always striving for more. And that's what I've learned from him that makes me better every, single day."
Altuve isn't sure why he's always had that mindset. It could stem from years ago when many doubted that someone who is only 5-foot-6 could make it in the majors. But he won't admit that now.
"That's the way I am," he said when asked about his drive. "I just want to keep getting better ... if I can get better to keep helping my team I am going to be happy to do it."
Altuve is one of the longest-tenured players on this team and among a handful who were around for the really bleak times when the Astros lost 100 or more games in three straight seasons from 2011-13. He was a major reason the Astros returned to the postseason after a 10-year absence in 2015. But he didn't have a great performance in those playoffs when he batted just .154 without an extra-base hit as Houston was eliminated by eventual champion Kansas City in the ALDS.
Things have been much different this time around with Altuve carrying his big hitting in the regular season into the playoffs with eight hits in the ALDS . He starred in Houston's Game 1 win over Boston when he became just the 10th player in major league history and first since 2012 to hit three homers in a playoff game. Babe Ruth did it twice. It was that game that helped give him a whopping 1.765 on base-plus- slugging percentage this postseason.
But the All-Star second baseman insists that he isn't thinking about any of the numbers that he's put up so far.
"The five-whatever I hit last series is already gone," he said. "It doesn't count for this series. So if someone asks me what is your batting average right now I would say: 'It's zero.' I haven't got a hit in the next series so that's the way I think right now."
The Astros went 5-2 this year against the Yankees, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit and beat Cleveland 5-2 Wednesday night in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Altuve is a front-runner to win MVP after finishing third last season. The 27-year-old topped the majors in hitting this year, has won the AL batting crown in three of the last four seasons, and has had four straight 200-hit seasons to lead the AL in each of those years.
Manager A.J. Hinch, who has joked that he's running out of ways to compliment Altuve, was asked what he likes best about his star.
"Consistency," Hinch said without missing a beat. "It's remarkable to watch him be consistent in every way. And a lot of times people will automatically go to hits, which is what we talk about is production and hits and his ability to do things every day."
"But it's more of his approach. This guy is the same guy every day. He's got energy. He's prepared and then he goes out and does it."
Altuve, who in the past has been more of a lead-by-example guy, has also started to assert himself as one of the team's more vocal leaders as he's grown with this team.
"I think this is the right time to do it," he said. "We just won a big series. The Red Sox were one of the best teams in the league and I feel like this is the time for me to speak up and share the way I feel about my team ... like this is my family, my guys and we're playing good and I'm really excited about that."