The Pirates used to share a division with the Astros, but now they face them rarely. Here's what to expect from them this week.
Game times and probables
Monday, 7:05: Doug Fister vs. Jameson Taillon
Tuesday, 7:05: Joe Musgrove vs. Ivan Nova
Wednesday, 12:35: Collin McHugh vs. Gerrit Cole
Doug Fister was seen as a potential reclamation project prior to the season and has improved his ERA by a half a run this year (to 3.76), but his velocity remains in the 87-MPH range and his walks are up significantly. He isn't the scariest opponent to face. Musgrove is a 23-year-old rookie who has modest velocity but has had success in the minors mostly thanks to extremely low walk rates and to a good slider. The Astros acquired him in the dark ages of 2012 when they traded away J.A. Happ. McHugh has allowed 22 home runs in 137 innings, leading to a 4.99 ERA, but he otherwise looks like essentially the same solid starter he was last year.
C Jason Castro, Evan Gattis
1B A.J. Reed
2B Jose Altuve
SS Carlos Correa
3B Alex Bregman
IF Yulieski Gurriel
LF Marwin Gonzalez
CF Teoscar Hernandez
RF George Springer
OF Jake Marisnick
OF Tony Kemp
First base has been a black hole, and there's some uncertainty in the outfield since Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus haven't worked out (although Springer, who has 25 home runs in an excellent third big-league season, is a menace), but man, is this a fun group. Even with a mess at first base, Altuve, Correa and Bregman (not to mention Luis Valbuena, who's injured) give the Astros perhaps baseball's most interesting infield. They just added more infield talent, too, with the promotion of Yulieski Gurriel, who they'd signed to a $47.5 million deal earlier this summer. Gurriel, once one of the most exciting players in Cuba, made his big-league debut yesterday against the Orioles. He's supposed to DH for the Astros right now, so it's unclear how they'll use him for a series in an NL park. It's possible he won't play much, especially since he's day-to-day after straining his hamstring yesterday.
The Astros' bullpen ranks second in the majors in fWAR (6.0) and K/9 (9.9) and first in BB/9 (2.1). Michael Feliz has struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings and isn't even first on his team, ranking behind Ken Giles. There's also former closer Luke Gregerson, who's worked out well in a setup role, along with veteran Pat Neshek, who remains a reliable late-inning arm. Then there's Will Harris, who's a little like a setup-man equivalent of Mark Melancon, thriving with modest velocity, good control and the ability to induce ground balls. Also look out for Chris Devenski, who's little-known but who could actually be called a fringe Rookie of the Year candidate during a season in which he's posted a 1.61 ERA.
If there's any weakness here, it's that their one lefty, Tony Sipp, has had a poor season. In general, though, probably the best way to beat the Astros is to score early.
The Astros are just 64-60, but it's hard not to fear their roster. Besides a series against the Cubs, it's rare to have to face this much young talent at once. Like the Cubs, the Astros built their roster by aggressively tearing down and aggressively rebuilding. They're still a bit behind the Cubs in that process, but with Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Springer, Gurriel, and starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers (who's currently injured) in tow, they have the makings of a future powerhouse, particularly if they can find ways to supplement their rotation.