Houston is off to a good start

Analyzing the 4-2 start to 2022 for the Houston Astros

Jeremy Pena has been a bright spot for Houston. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

After the extended offseason due to the lockout between owners and players, we have finally returned to regular-season baseball. Houston's year has kicked off with a nine-game road trip, with six of those in the book and the Astros sporting a 4-2 record.

Over that span, we've had our first look at the current rotation and different permeations of the batting order. Here are a few things we've learned in the very early goings of 2022:

So far, so good for Peña

There's no question that there were a lot of expectations on the shoulders of 24-year-old Jeremy Peña before opening day. He's been a bright spot so far for the Astros; despite going 0-for-4 on opening day, he has since had seven hits over twenty at-bats, including his first career homer in the second game of the season, where he had a three-hit performance.

He's also one of the few players that have been in the lineup all six games so far, as Dusty Baker has used the early part of the season to continue to ramp players back to normal, saying, "Whether you like it or not, I've said it repeatedly, we're still in spring training." Although Peña has one error so far at shortstop, he has otherwise been fine defensively, showing he's worthy of being the everyday shortstop in place of Carlos Correa.

Verlander looks like himself in return

Although a slow night at the plate behind him resulted in him starting the season with a 0-1 record, Justin Verlander's first start since 2020 was good against the Angels in Anaheim. He showed normal velocity and held Los Angeles to one run on three hits while striking out seven over five innings of work.

Like most pitchers in the MLB in their first start of the year, he was held to a pitch count of around 80, which got him through the five frames. His next start will be Saturday in Seattle against the Mariners, where he'll hope to get more run support to get his first win of the year.

Speaking of pitching

Houston's pitching staff has done very well to start 2022, as they currently sit as the best team in the league with a combined 1.69 ERA. Framber Valdez was given the ball on Opening Day and provided the Astros a shutout performance over 6.2 innings but struggled in his second start. It took him 75 pitches to get through just three innings while allowing a run to the Diamondbacks.

Jake Odorizzi went four frames in his first start, giving up two runs but not factoring into the decision, Jose Urquidy had an efficient five-inning, one-run start on 72 pitches, while Luis Garcia rounded out the first trip through the rotation with four innings of scoreless pitching in Arizona in the fifth game of the season. The bullpen has also been impressive, with returning arms partnering with newcomers like Hector Neris and Rafael Montero, who have been solid additions thus far.

Lance McCullers Jr. was also able to play catch this week, showing a promising step towards returning to the rotation at some point in the future to bolster Houston's pitching staff further.

Draw your own conclusions about the offense

While a slow night at the plate resulted in the shutout that earned them the first loss of the year, the Astros have put up 4.8 runs per game in the other five, fueled in part by a strong 13-6 win against the Angels on a night when they had six homers. The other games haven't been to that same level, but they've also been essentially running a different lineup every day as players get days off.

Though starting the year off slow at the plate is not foreign to Houston, it's hard to tell if that's the case so far with such a small sample size of six games. Alex Bregman received AL Player of the Week honors after his hot start in Anaheim, looking like he is truly healthy and ready to get back into potential MVP conversations this year. Jose Altuve has had a rough go of things, currently sitting at a .150 average, while Kyle Tucker sits at .130 and Yordan Alvarez at .143, not the averages they'd hope for six games in. Let's not forget, though, that the Astros won't have their first home game of the season until Monday, which will be their first chance to take advantage of the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. It's not time to panic just yet.

They may not have all been lopsided seven-run wins, yet all in all, the Astros would be more than happy to continue winning games at the 4-2 clip they have started the year with, as that would put them on track to have a 100-plus win season.

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