No team has repeated as World Series champion since the New York Yankees won a third straight title in 2000. The Houston Astros are +600 favorites to end that drought this year and while it’s tough to know what they may look like in October, Houston will enter the season with All-Star second baseman and former AL MVP Jose Altuve atop the lineup for at least two months.
MLB News: Astros All-Star Jose Altuve Could Miss More Than 2 Months
Altuve suffered a fractured right thumb in Team Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic game Saturday and will need surgery. Altuve exited the loss to Team USA in the fifth inning after being drilled by a 96 mph fastball by Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Daniel Bard.
“It’s a massive blow,” Astros general manager Dana Brown told reporters. “You can’t replace a player like this, this close to the season. These players don’t exist. You just can’t go out and replace this type of a player.”
Over the past 10 full seasons, going back to 2012, Altuve has never played fewer than 124 games in an individual campaign. That low number came in 2019, when a hamstring strain sent him to the injured list for just over a month. Apart from that, all his trips to the IL have been fairly minor, meaning he is now likely facing the lengthiest absence of his career.
Last year, Altuve was named an All-Star for the eighth time, a club record, besting 2B Craig Biggio, who was selected seven times in his Hall of Fame career. Altuve finished the 2022 regular season with a .300 average, 28 homers, 18 steals, 103 runs and 39 doubles for a .920 OPS. He has hit .300 for a full season six times in his career (2014-18, 2022) and has posted an OPS over .900 four times (2016-17, 2019, 2022).
Altuve led all American League leadoff hitters in runs (103), hits (158), doubles (39), homers (28) and walks (66). He hit leadoff homers, which tied the franchise record for a single season, also reached by CF George Springer in 2019. After starting the postseason 0-for-23 in his first five games, Altuve recovered to hit .314 (11×35) over his last eight games. By doing so, he became the sixth player in MLB history to reach 100 career postseason hits.
It goes without saying that losing Altuve, who ranked fifth among all qualified hitters with a .921 OPS in 2022, for any length of time is a devastating blow for the defending World Series champs, especially since Yordan Alvarez is nursing a hand injury and has not yet played this spring. Designated hitter Michael Brantley’s status for Opening Day is also up in the air as he continues to recover from the shoulder surgery that ended his 2022 season prematurely. Starting pitcher Lance McCullers won’t be ready for Opening Day. Of course, ace pitcher Justin Verlander is now with the Mets.
Utility men David Hensley and Mauricio Dubón are the likely candidates to replace Altuve. Both are good defensively but can’t hit much. Dubón, expected to be the Astros’ primary utility player this year following the loss of Aledmys Diaz in free agency, has mostly played center field in his MLB career. But he has also made starts at second base, shortstop and third base. He started four games at second last year and has 30 career starts there as a big leaguer. Hensley has started 78 games at second in his minor-league career, including 22 last year at Triple-A. Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Villar are players available on the free-agent market, while the Yankees’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa could make sense if they seek a trade.
The injury risk of playing in the World Baseball Classic has already been a loud topic of conversation since New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz tore his patellar tendon while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory at the end of pool play. Díaz, last year’s NL Reliever of the Year, is expected to miss the entire MLB season.
Houston opens the regular-season on Thursday, Marcy 30 at home as the team will raise its second World Series banner. The Astros have won 10 straight games on Opening Day (2013-22), which ties as the longest streak in Major League history. Altuve has been a part of all 10 of those victories, as he’s now 10-1 in Opening Days in his illustrious career.
The Astros are -200 favorites to win the AL West again but this potentially opens the door for Seattle (+310).
I have read enough, I need to place my bet now. What to do?