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Red-hot Bregman emerges as AL MVP candidate

Maybe if it were a stare-down contest, Alex Bregman would win going away.

There’s more required in the competition to be the American League’s Most Valuable Player, certainly. But if you look — or stare — closely, a certain Albuquerque native seems to have joined the race.

Alex Rodriguez, himself a three-time AL MVP-turned-TV baseball commentator, shook things up on Wednesday when he went off the board and proclaimed Bregman his choice.

“This guy’s been fantastic,” Alex Rodriguez said on Fox Sports 1. “Second-most home runs since June, he’s playing stellar defense, but he is the Energizer bunny. He has become, very quickly, the voice of a very enthusiastic clubhouse.”

Yeah, Bregman seems to be in the middle of every goofy thing the Astros do, especially with cameras trained on them. After a recent homer, there he was in a supporting role as the stone in a curling exhibition, easing down the dugout until he was in full frame, glaring at the TV viewers for comic attempt. His glare-and-glide out of frame Wednesday in a postgame, on-field interview channeled his inner James Harden, Houston Rockets star.

But the curling stone has been rock-solid straight on the field, the best player to date on a team that looks at least capable making a run at a second straight World Series title.

Wednesday, Bregman homered and had a career-high five RBIs to lead the Astros to a 9-1 win over the Minnesota Twins. That ended the 10-game homestand during which the 24-year-old Albuquerque Academy and LSU alumnus hit .486 with seven doubles, five homers (to make 29 for the season) and 17 RBIs. He has hit four homers in his last five games and has recorded an extra-base hit and an RBI in five straight games, the longest such streak for an Astros hitter since Morgan Ensberg homered in six straight games in April 2006.

“It’s hard to expect it at this level because it’s not as easy as these guys make it look sometimes, but he’s getting great pitches to hit,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s not missing them — he’s doing damage.”

The Astros, 87-53 and 3½ games ahead of Oakland in the AL West, were idle Thursday and open a three-game series today at Boston, where two of the presumed MVP front-runners reside.

The Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith wrote on Thursday that Red Sox Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez “are increasingly feeling like the only names standing in (Bregman’s) way.”

Betts is listed as OddsShark’s favorite at minus-235, while Martinez is listed at plus-500. Angels superstar Mike Trout is listed at plus-500 also.

But there is some speculation that the two Red Sox could cancel each other’s votes, and Trout, the acclaimed best player in the majors, isn’t on a contending team.

Meanwhile, here comes Bregman, not yet even mentioned by OddShark, but leading a contending team and scalding hot.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still so much to improve on and so much to get better at,” Bregman said Wednesday. “That’s what this game is the best — it’s a game of failure. You can be on top of the world one day and 0-for-4 the next day. You can’t ever get too high or too low.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.