With a 12-game cushion over the second-place Mariners for the AL West lead, the Astros can afford to be cautious with some of their best players. Justin Verlander, for example, isn’t scheduled to start again for at least seven days with no concerning indicators thus far. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dusty Baker continue to give his regulars an extra game off here and there to keep them fresh for the looming postseason run. After all, the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and Houston is currently in a prime position to take advantage of this fact.
However, not all time off is for rest, as can be attested by Lance McCullers Jr., Jake Odorizzi, and Jake Meyers, who have all missed various lengths of time with injuries. In fact, we’re still waiting on McCullers Jr. to make his first appearance of the season. Now Yordan Alvarez is out for at least ten days due to a sore right hand, with the main fear for this writer being an eventual hamate bone injury. At this time, the Astros hope to have the All-Star slugger back in the fold following the All-Star break. The concern going forward is whether this issue will eventually require surgery as we saw with Yuli Gurriel back a couple of years ago if it is indeed a hamate bone issue.
While the recovery from hamate bone surgery is usually six-to-eight weeks, the injury is thought to impact a hitter’s power output for varying amounts of time. As the lineup has grown more dependent on Alvarez’s contributions in 2022, the thought of a diminished version, or none at all, heading into the postseason is a justifiable concern. After all, Alvarez is among the best hitters in baseball with a 197 wRC+ and could garner MVP attention if he remains productive. While the overall offense could survive a short-term absence, any loss of Alvarez from his peak abilities represents a blow from which no team could fully recover.
Currently situated, the outfield consists of Kyle Tucker, Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick, and Jose Siri, with utility player Mauricio Dubón in the mix. Defensively speaking, those five represent the best of what Houston can offer in terms of overall coverage and run-saving ability. Offensively speaking, there is a clear drop-off with McCormick and Siri compared to Alvarez and Brantley. For a lineup that has struggled at times to score runs, especially in bunches, the Astros are at their overall best even when it comes at the cost of defensive efficiency.
Surgery isn’t a reality based on what was reported on Sunday. The optimistic baseline for Alvarez appears to be a short IL stint with little to zero further issues. Hopefully, rest is all he requires to give his hand time to heal, and he doesn’t miss a beat the rest of the season. Alas, suppose there are any further complications. In that case, the Astros are facing an unenviable situation of arguably their best missing up to two months of the season if it is indeed a hamate bone injury and only returning a couple of weeks before the start of the postseason. Plus, Alvarez’s absence also creates additional strain on an outfield already at less than full strength, at least offensively, as Michel Brantley remains on the IL with right shoulder discomfort. Keep an eye on any developments over the coming weeks as it could force Houston’s hand, especially as the trade deadline looms later this month.