OCTOBER READY

3 Houston Astros X-factors to watch for in their first postseason

Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Even though the Astros have been in the last five postseasons and made it to the World Series in three of those, they still have some new faces on the roster this year that will be participating in their first playoff games. Three of them, in particular, could have impactful enough parts to play that they shape the entire fortune of the team in these playoffs.

Trey Mancini

Although Baltimore was in the hunt until the last weeks of the season in 2022, it took getting traded to the Astros for Trey Mancini to finally get his first taste of playoff baseball. Mancini debuted in 2016, and while his numbers have been frustrating since joining his new team, he is still a powerful slugger whom the Astros should use at times in the ALDS and beyond.

Whether they need to spell Yuli Gurriel at first or use him in the outfield, Mancini will be a good weapon for the Astros, especially if he can break out of his recent funk and string together some good at-bats. Before the trade, he was batting .268, a number much more in line with his career numbers than the low .176 he had with the Astros. With the time off between the final regular season game and his first plate appearance in the playoffs, I'd expect he'll have found a way to put the slump behind him and come through with some key hits.

Hunter Brown

One of the most pleasant surprises the Astros had this year was seeing the quality they could get out of Hunter Brown from day one in the majors. After being touted as the next Justin Verlander after his six-inning shutout start in his debut, Brown made another quality start before transitioning to the bullpen.

Now, the big caveat here is that Brown actually makes the ALDS roster, which, with Houston's depth, puts a good but challenging task in front of them to assemble the proper ratio of position players to pitchers, and within the pitchers, starters to relievers. Assuming Brown makes the cut, he could be a big difference-maker.

Brown has only allowed two hits and three walks in his last three appearances, most recently logging 2.1 innings of scoreless work to lower his ERA to 0.89. He has electric stuff and would be a great asset to have in a game where maybe one of Houston's starters can't make it past a few innings, and the Astros need someone to gap between them and the other relievers.

Jeremy Peña

One first-timer that we don't have to speculate about making the roster or getting plenty of playing time is Jeremy Peña. He'll be at shortstop and probably batting second behind Jose Altuve in the lineup. Entering the year with high expectations to take over for Carlos Correa, Peña put together an outstanding rookie campaign, including launching 22 home runs, matching Correa's rookie number, and coming in first amongst AL shortstops in defensive runs saved.

One area it may take him and others combined to replace Correa is going to the plate with the game on the line and coming through in the clutch. If Peña can come up with one of those "it's my time" moments in the 2022 postseason, he'll have completed the total takeover. In any case, it will be fun to see how the rookie does his first time on the biggest stage.

One of the most well-rounded teams in the league this year, and now in the playoffs, Houston has plenty of veteran experience that will make them a tough out in any series. Add in these three players, and it shows why the Astros are coming out ahead in most people's predictions.

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