How Jeremy Peña's injury could impact his case for ROY
The MLB season is one of the more unique grinds in sports. Teams have to navigate the challenge of staying successful over a lengthy 162-game period that can be full of hot streaks, cold streaks, untimely injuries, and timely breakouts. While the goal for most seems to be getting a team that is "built for October," there's still the chance that the team that is better on paper will fall at the hands of one that, for some untold reason, owns more momentum.
This same phenomenon happens in the ebbs and flows of the regular season, as powerful teams deal with sudden futility to play to their normal level, and weaker clubs break out to get unexpected winning streaks against tough opponents. Pair these occurrences with the expected outcomes the rest of the time, as in good teams playing above .500 and bad ones below, and it's no surprise that we always end up with thrilling races for playoff spots come September.
Will injury hurt Peña's ROY case?
Jeremy Peña landed awkwardly earlier this week while trying to field a ball against the Rangers. While remaining in the game, he ultimately landed on the 10-day IL the next day. Luckily the Astros have said that there is no structural damage and view it as a minor injury, but his thumb discomfort will keep him from swinging a bat for a week and out of the lineup until the ten-day period is over.
Going into June, Houston's rookie shortstop was leading the polls for American League Rookie of the Year, ahead of Seattle's Julio Rodriguez. The most recent poll shows Rodriguez edging ahead of Peña with enough overall votes to grab the top spot, meaning a chance for that gap to widen the longer he is off the field. His absence isn't just putting Houston down a star rookie, though; in fact, it removes one of their best all-around players on the entire roster. Ideally, the Astros' outlook is accurate, and a short trip to the IL can give him time to reload for a final push that could end with Houston's third ROY in the last eight seasons.
Houston's record is strong, but are they firing on all cylinders?
As of June 16th, the Astros currently have the fifth-best record in baseball at 39-24. If you do the math, that means that 63 games are in the books, with more than half the season, 99 games to be exact, still to go. In Houston's case, they've had a bit of it all so far in 2022, starting the year off with an 11-11 underperformance (by their standards and expectations) followed by rattling off eleven wins in a row to get to 22-11.
Since then, though, it's been more of a slow maintenance of their winning record and division lead, with a 17-13 record over their last 30 to reach where they sit now. Looking even more recent, they are an even 5-5 over their last ten, including disappointing series losses to the Mariners and Marlins at home. Although total record trumps everything else, it is worth noting that in terms of series outcomes, Houston sits at 10-8-1 this year.
If you thought Houston's offense would take a hit in 2022, you'd be correct, but it's not because of losing Carlos Correa; it's because the Astros' lineup currently has some holes. We've already documented how they've struggled with runners in scoring position in 2022, and that remains the case with the Astros in 23rd with a .236 average in those situations (the Mets lead the MLB at .288). The overpowering lineup that in recent years was characterized as "having no easy outs" isn't the same thus far this season, with notable struggles from Yuli Gurriel (.218), Alex Bregman (.214), and the catcher position (.141 for Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro combined).
The positive news offensively is that Yordan Alvarez continues to have a monster season, and linking him with Kyle Tucker in the middle of the order has been the difference maker in games recently where they've been able to drive in runs via timely hits and long balls. Michael Brantley is also swinging the bat well of late, currently riding an eleven-game hitting streak of which six were multi-hit affairs giving him a .429 average in June so far.
Phil Maton just tossed the second immaculate inning of the game, to the SAME THREE BATTERS as the first one ... pic.twitter.com/9HUBNWshU5
— MLB (@MLB) June 15, 2022
Houston's pitching continues to do very well in 2022, with no better evidence than the historic moment in Wednesday's game where Luis Garcia and Phil Maton became the first pitching duo to toss immaculate innings in the same game and against the same three batters. Justin Verlander's comeback story remains the hot topic, though, as he continues to lead the league with his 0.81 WHIP and sits at an 8-2 record with a 1.94 ERA.
Formidable schedule ahead
After this weekend's three-game set against the 30-31 White Sox, the Astros will enter a nine-game stretch against the league's current two best teams: the Mets and the Yankees. It's no question that the Yankees are the team to beat right now, as they not only have a great team on paper, but they've had the momentum to power them to long winning streaks too. The Mets, meanwhile, have been more of the slow dominance, winning most of their series but with fewer streaks.
It provides Houston with a pivotal opportunity as we near the season's halfway point. If they come out ahead, which will likely take a full-team effort, that may be the positive momentum boost to help some of the struggling facets of their roster to move past any mental barriers holding them back today. If they are unsuccessful in those games, it could give them some specific areas to try and optimize for later in the year and potentially the postseason, making them better too. In any case, it should be fun to watch.
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