The defending American League-champion Houston Astros could be playing with targets on their backs — metaphorically, at least.
In just one week of preseason games, Astros hitters have already been hit by seven pitches, in what's either a statistical fluke or early signs that Houston batters could be targets of baseball vigilantes.
This year's spring training started a month after a Major League Baseball investigation found that Houston hitters had been illicitly using TV cameras to steal signs of opposing catchers, and then immediately employing that information to gain major advantage.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred warned after the sign-stealing finding that opposing players should not retaliate against Houston batters.
After just six preseason games played through Thursday, Houston batters have been hit seven times. As a comparison, in the Astros' 162 regular season games of 2019, their hitters were plunked 66 times, which fit squarely in the middle of MLB rankings.
And Houston's seven hit batters is not even the highest in spring training so far. St. Louis Cardinals' batters have been hit eight times through Thursday's action.
And, all of these hit batters are likely the product of rusty pitchers after the long off-season.
Still, some Las Vegas bookmakers are taking bets on how many pitches will hit Houston batters in the upcoming regular season, with odds hovering at 83.5, significantly higher than last year's 66.
The New York Mets led baseball in this quirky stat last season, having been hit 95 times. The Chicago Cubs were fourth with 83 batters hit.