On Sunday, Team USA advanced in the World Baseball Classic getting contributions from Astros Kyle Tucker and Ryan Pressly. They also, inadvertently, affected the Astros season when relief pitcher Daniel Bard hit second baseman Jose Altuve, who was playing for Team Venezuela, in the hand and broke his thumb. According to reports from the Astros, the injury will require surgery and sideline the team's All Star indefinitely.
It's a huge blow to an Astros team trying to repeat after winning their second world championship in the fall. They are already dealing with injures to Lance McCullers (forearm), Michael Brantley (shoulder surgery) and Yordan Alvarez (hand). Fortunately, Alvarez appears poised to return in time for opening day and Brantley should be back within a couple weeks of the start of the season. McCullers could also return by mid-May.
But, Altuve is the engine that drives this team, one of its bona fide super stars. Here are four thoughts on his injury.
Better to have this injury now rather than in September.
Altuve being injured at ANY point during the year is bad, but wouldn't you rather this happen now, still two weeks from Opening Day, than in the middle of the stretch run for the playoffs? Rehab time for surgically repaired thumbs reportedly is around two months. That puts his return in June, still a LONG way from the playoffs and plenty of time for him to round into form. Had this happened in August, we'd be concerned about a return for the postseason. Make no mistake, games in April and May still count, but the team has enough firepower to tide them over. This could have been a lot worse.
David Hensley and Mauricio Dubon will have to pick up the slack.
Both are natural middle infielders, but Hensley has the better bat and Dubon the better glove. Hensley has had the better spring, hitting .288 with two home runs. If we were to wager a guess at this point, we'd probably have Hensley starting not just because of his bat but also because Dubon is the more versatile player able to spend time in multiple infield and outfield spots. Hensley certainly provides more pop with his bat as well. They both have massive shoes to fill either way.
Jeremy Peña on deck?
People all over social media have been clamoring for the second year shortstop to keep his spot as the number two in the lineup even if professional hitter Michael Brantley returns. Manager Dusty Baker has been clear he wants the more experienced and consistent Brantley at the top of the lineup. But, could the injury to Altuve find Peña leading off?
Peña, Hensley, Bregman might be the team's best option until Brantley returns, then pushing Hensley down to the seven spot. That preserves the middle of the order and gets Peña back up to the top of the lineup where many believe he belongs. The issue will be getting on base. Peña will have to demonstrate he can wait on pitches, put the ball in play and not strike out as much as he did in his rookie campaign.
This is not the fault of the WBC.
We have heard all the moaning and complaining about how none of this would have happened if not for the World Baseball Classic. Maybe, but then again, injuries happen all the time. Edwin Dias shredded his knee while celebrating his team's win, but our guess is that knee was going to tear at some point if jumping up and down destroyed it.
The World Baseball Classic has been great for baseball. The players love it. And if you have watched the games, the energy level is off the charts. Injuries that have happened including Altuve's are unfortunate, but Carlos Correa proved they can literally happen anywhere (including on the massage table). This has little to do with the WBC.