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How Does The Lockout Affect The Astros?

Syndication: Palm Beach Post Greg Lovett / USA TODAY NETWORK

Consider this for a moment: Justin Verlander has appeared in only one game since the conclusion of the 2019 World Series and it was during a shortened season due to the pandemic. One Tommy John surgery and rehab later, it’s quite possible that Verlander’s 2022 season will be shortened to some extent due to the owner-fueled lockout. As a fan of the Astros — and good pitching — this development is awfully disappointing. For the the third consecutive season, the fans in Houston are robbed of watching one of the game’s best hurlers not pitch due to external outside of their control reasons, especially as the owners’ unwillingness to draw a fair labor compromise with the players.

For the Astros, or any team, another reduced season is far from ideal. For one, we're not entirely sure when the season will actually start. Contenders will have less margin of error in the regular season while rebuilding clubs lose another year of valuable development time. Well, unless the expanded postseason comes to pass for the former. At this juncture, I would speculate a start date sometime in late April to early May, but that is my speculation. But I've also read as late as June if labor negotiations don't progress much further shortly.

As far as player personnel is concerned, a shorter season could, in theory, mean less wear and tear on the roster. Of course, when some player undoubtedly has a serious injury arise, it’ll create additional stress on said player and roster, especially for the postseason if their team is in the running to qualify. Then there is the issue of players not performing well out of the gate. Any struggles could hold more importance than they usually would. Internal depth could also be an issue as minor league players on the 40-man roster would lose playing time and exposure. Clubs could also become uncomfortable about promoting a prospect if their exposure time is limited. Then there is the ugly issue of not getting paid for canceled games, which is another can of worms. Frankly, this whole situation is a mess.

Even without Carlos Correa, Houston is still viewed as one of the favorites in the AL. Projections from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus had a win total range of roughly 92 to 96 wins prior to game cancellations. But as we witnessed in 2020, it took the Astros nearly the entire 60-game season to start clicking. If it wasn’t for the expanded postseason field, they wouldn’t have qualified. If the 2022 season is shortened by any noticeable degree, then the margin for error obviously shrinks. The expanded postseason would help mitigate that risk, but it won't go away entirely as it is dependent on whether the field expands to 12 or 14 teams. The shorter the season, the riskier a slow start could jeopardize any postseason aspirations. That's probably the most significant threat outside of injuries to Houston’s hopes of another deep postseason run.