Altuve's big presence has Astros at height of their game

August 31st, 2023

Jose Altuve is 33 now, in his 13th season of Major League Baseball, and on Monday night at Fenway Park, he was as big at 5-foot-6 as he has ever been. He had four hits, knocked in four runs, scored four runs and finally hit for the cycle. So now he’s done that, in a season in which he’s gone past 2,000 career hits. Altuve continues to be one of the great players of his time, of any size. Better yet, he is healthy again.

Altuve started the season injured after getting hit by a pitch and fracturing his right thumb in the World Baseball Classic. An oblique injury came later, and these are reasons why he has only played 64 of the Astros’ 135 games so far, and has only hit 10 home runs. But feel free to do the math on just his home run numbers if he had been able to play a full season to here, because his power numbers would be right there where they usually are.

At 5-foot-6.

Altuve is still hitting over .300, again. He hit .300 last season. His current OPS, through the Astros’ victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday, is .916. He remains an essential part of the core of the Astros, who have won two World Series and played in two others in the past six seasons. Altuve and the Astros have been to the American League Championship Series in six straight seasons, and they might be on the way back to another one this October.

As always, it starts at the top of Dusty Baker’s batting order with the little big man who made more history at Fenway this week, in a career that started in Houston back in 2011. Two years ago, Altuve hit 31 home runs, the first time he has gotten past 30. If he hits .300 again this season, it will mean he has done that for the seventh time in his career. He is on his way to Cooperstown, one knock at a time. Altuve is an inch shorter than Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who also started out his career in Houston before ending up on the Big Red Machine.

But Altuve isn’t going anywhere, on a team that has been a Big Orange Machine over the second half of his career. And as we enter September, Altuve and the Astros are in a virtual tie with the Mariners for first place in the AL West, and a game ahead of the Rangers. It means they are where they always are with a month to go.

Altuve was asked about hitting for the cycle in Boston on Monday night. “You are kind of thinking about it,” he said. “But you don’t want to get out of your approach. You just look for a good pitch to hit and hopefully it happens."

It happened with a home run off Kyle Barraclough over the Green Monster in Altuve’s last at-bat, Altuve becoming the first Astros player to hit for the cycle in 10 years. It just means he continues to make more history in Houston. And the song remains the same: He isn’t a historic player because of his stature. Just a historic player, period, still playing the game at such a high level for the Astros. Altuve has been doing something with good pitches to hit and not-so-good pitches for a long time.

I asked Altuve’s former manager, A.J. Hinch, now with the Tigers, about Altuve the other day. And here is just some of what Hinch had to say about him:

“He has incredible bat to ball skills. He hits pitches in every inch of the strike zone and even gets hits on pitches outside the zone. His plan has gotten so refined over the years and he continues to adjust. On the personal level, he’s one of the most evenly emotional players I’ve ever been around. What makes him so good is his heart is always in a good place for himself and his teammates. And whether or not he dominates the day, you know what you are going to get from him when you see him tomorrow.”

Altuve played the way he played for Hinch and now plays this way for Dusty, on an Astros team that has won the way it has and keeps winning this season, despite the fact that Altuve has played fewer than half their games and Yordan Alvarez, the big bat in the middle of Dusty’s order, has only played 87 so far because of an oblique injury of his own. Lance McCullers was lost for the season because of right forearm surgery. Luis Garcia, who went 15-8 in 2022, also saw his '23 season end early as the righty underwent Tommy John surgery.

A lot has happened in Houston over the first five months of the season. But the two most important months are about to be played, and the Astros looked very much like the Astros in their just-concluded sweep of the Red Sox, with whom they split four games at Minute Maid Park last week.

They can really only look that way when Jose Altuve is healthy and at his best. He is back to being both. He’s still great. At 5-foot-6. You still can’t miss him.