Astros SS Jeremy Pena scratched vs. Royals due to health and safety protocols

Astros SS Jeremy Pena scratched vs. Royals due to health and safety protocols

At 53-28 with a 13-game lead in the AL West entering play Thursday, the Houston Astros appear to be rolling towards their

 third straight division crown and sixth first-place finish in the last seven seasons

While 39-year-old ace Justin Verlander and 32-year-old former MVP Jose Altuve would seemingly be in the latter stages of their career

 the Astros' future is still bright, with the likes of recently extended

slugger Yordan Alvarez and power-speed dual threat Kyle Tucker in the lineup at only 25 years old.

One of the surprise leaders on offense during the first half has been another youngster — rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena

He'll join the 25-club in September and among Houston's loaded lineup

Pena is fourth in home runs (behind Alvarez, Altuve and Tucker) with 12, RBIs (31)

batting average (.270) and OPS (.792), as well as tied for second in stolen bases at six

After recently returning from an injury suffered in result of a nasty collision with Alvarez, the shortstop is back on the shelf on Thursday, but not due to injury.

Pena was on the injured list earlier this season due to thumb discomfort and has played in 63 games — while missing 18 — as the team is at their official halfway point on Thursday.

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