Altuve, youngsters highlight Astros' uneven year

Altuve, youngsters highlight Astros' uneven year

HOUSTON -- It was a season full of high expectations for the Astros, which is what made the way it finished so disappointing. Most expected Houston to make it back to the playoffs in 2016, but a woeful April and injuries at the end of the season proved to be too much to overcome.

The Astros found themselves with too many holes in the starting lineup on most nights, and a starting pitching rotation that vaulted them to the playoffs in 2015 took a step backward before injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers ravaged the club in September.

Still, the Astros had some significant positives. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve made a run at the American League Most Valuable Player Award with his best season yet, and outfielder George Springer proved to be a force, playing in all 162 games. Carlos Correa followed up his Rookie of the Year season with a strong campaign, and rookies Alex Bregman, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove and Yulieski Gurriel all emerged. Here's a look back at the Top 5 Astros storylines of 2016:

Devenski strikes out the side

5. Enter the Dragon
Devenski, the rookie right-hander nicknamed the "Dragon," came out of nowhere and was perhaps the Astros' most valuable pitcher. The 26-year-old with the great changeup went 4-4 with a 2.16 ERA in 48 games, including five starts. He set the club record for a rookie reliever in both ERA (1.61) and WHIP (0.81) en route to finishing fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

4. Midseason surge
The Astros' 7-17 start to the season nearly derailed their entire year, including bottoming out at 17-28 on May 22, but Houston rallied throughout the summer and got back into the playoff race before fading in September.

From May 24-Sept. 6, the Astros posted the best record in the AL by going 57-36, and they went 77-61 in their final 138 games overall. The only team with a better record from May 24-Sept. 6 was the Cubs, who went 60-36 on the way to their World Series title.

Valbuena's solo homer

3. Injuries
Astros players had the fewest number of days on the disabled list in the first half of the season before the training room started to fill up later in the summer.

The first big blow came when third baseman Luis Valbuena injured his right hamstring in late July and was ultimately lost for the season, dealing Houston a big blow. Valbuena had put together a strong season at the plate from the left side and was missed.

Reliever Luke Gregerson (left oblique strain), McCullers (right elbow discomfort), and outfielder Colby Rasmus (cyst in right ear) also lost significant time down the stretch because of the DL. Keuchel never went on the DL, but he didn't pitch in the final month of the season because of left shoulder inflammation.

2. Bregman makes his mark
Bregman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, made his much-anticipated big league debut on July 25, becoming first player from the 2015 Draft to reach the big leagues. Bregman struggled at the plate early before becoming a key cog in the Astros' lineup.

Bregman overcame the 2-for-38 start (.053) in his first 10 games with a remarkable turnaround, hitting .313 (51-for-162) with 13 doubles, three triples, eight home runs and 34 RBIs in his final 39 games. During that span, he led the team in batting average, triples and RBIs and tied for first in doubles.

1. Altuve wins his second batting title
For the second time in three years, Altuve won the AL batting title. He hit .338, beating both Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts of the Red Sox by 20 points. Altuve, who also led the Major Leagues with 216 hits, became the first second baseman to win multiple batting titles since Rod Carew won five between the 1969-75 seasons.

Altuve, who set career highs in homers with 24 and RBIs with 96, finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player race and won his third consecutive Silver Slugger Award. He was also named the MLB Player of the Year in the Players Choice Awards and was named the MLBPA Player of the Year.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.