Drama alert: all the intriguing backstories, stakes entering Astros-Twins matchup
With the Astros opening a series at Minnesota Tuesday the biggest subplot is obvious. Carlos Correa (hopefully) plays against the Astros for the first time. Correa took a pitch off the middle finger of his throwing hand last Thursday. The fear was a fractured finger but it turned out to be just a bruise. Correa sat out the Twins’ three games over the weekend. That along with their off day Monday may have Correa ready to go. You know he’s had this series highlighted on the calendar, though it presumably won’t pack the emotional wallop of his return to Minute Maid Park when the Twins visit in August.
During the handwringing and whining over the Astros’ failure to re-sign free agent Correa, there was plenty of nonsense out there. Anyone can disagree with the decision, but Jim Crane’s fiscal discipline was smart before Correa signed with Minnesota, and certainly looks good so far with rookie Jeremy Pena (it’s still early!) outperforming Correa and doing so at a shade under 1/50th the price. As Correa rakes in 35.1 million dollars in 2022, Pena makes the upgraded Major League minimum salary of 700-thousand. The Astros’ best offer to Correa of five years 160 million dollars was never insulting. That’s 32 mil per season. Correa only topped that by taking the shorter term Twins’ offer after Correa and agent Scott Boras’ misread the market. Before the lockout the Tigers offered 10 years 275 mil, simple math says that was well below the Astros’ per annum offer.
Anyone can get a finger or hand messed up when struck by a pitch, Jeff Bagwell suffered a broken hand three consecutive seasons. But the truth is that for all the indelible memories Correa carved into Astros’ lore, he was neither consistently healthy over his time here nor consistently great. In 2017 Correa looked like a blossomed superstar on an early Hall of Fame track. He may have battled Jose Altuve for American League Most Valuable Player honors, but missed six weeks after tearing a thumb ligament. When he went down, Correa’s OPS was higher than what Altuve finished with in winning MVP. Correa of course returned to help the Astros win the World Series, and looked like a 23-year-old franchise player. Alas, in 2018 he was mediocre and missed a chunk of the season with a back problem. In 2019 he was very good when healthy but missed half the season injured. Remember the rib-fracturing massage? And while excellent in 2019 over the 75 games he played, Correa was not as good as 2017 Correa much less what Altuve was in 2016 and 2017, or what Alex Bregman was in 2018 and 2019. In the shortened 2020 season Correa was mediocre, before having a well-timed outstanding 2021. The belief of many that Crane and the Astros should have been willing to go 10 years 300 mil was crazy. That the Rangers signed Corey Seager to a ridiculous 10 year 325 million deal did not mean the Astros should have buckled. Who’s a bigger fool: someone who spends like a drunken sailor, or someone who follows suit of that drunken sailor?
If their avalanche of injuries is a season long problem for the White Sox, the Twins could win the otherwise soft American League Central. A Correa and the Twins vs. the Astros in a playoff matchup would be something. The Twins have amazingly lost their last 18 postseason games, the longest postseason losing streak in North American sports history.
The Astros and Twins enter this series at Target Field with identical 18-11 records. The Astros roll north off running the table on their seven game homestand. Since they were 6-8 the Astros have gone 12-3. Since a stumbling start of 4-8, the Twins have gone 14-3. Pitching has been the strength of both clubs. That’s reflected in the series opening pitching matchup. Justin Verlander throws for the Stros, he’s been terrific over five starts in his return from Tommy John surgery to the tune of a 1.93 earned run average. Twins’ rookie Joe Ryan has been even better through his five starts with a 1.63 ERA.
A note from the author
It’s not quite an elephant in the room, but one paragraph on why you are reading me on SportsMap Houston but not hearing me on ESPN Houston 97.5 FM. Essentially, an outside consultant was given license to make some changes. Replacing me was one of his changes. I wasn’t pleased with how it went down, but life happens. Fortunately, having had some success long enough to not have to do anything I don’t want to do, I am happy to restart this SportsMap Houston column to share some sports thoughts (primarily Astros these next few months). Thanks for clicking/reading.