Series 25 Preview: Cubs vs. Astros
Jose Altuve brings his .293 average and 16 stolen bases to Wrigley Field. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Remember the Astros? No longer a divisional rival of the Cubs, they’re making what they can of their move to the AL West. The organization has come under fire recently for blasting their talent down to the foundation in a full-scale rebuild under GM Jeff Luhnow. It’s a gambit that might cause the team to threaten the single-season record for losses, but it’s also long overdue so many years after the disappearance of the old “Killer B” squad of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. And there are already signs that Luhnow’s management team has assembled a tremendous collection of talent. That might be cold comfort to Astros fans if their team loses 120 or more games this season, but the new ownership seems more interested in building a lasting winner than notching a fourth-place finish.
HITTING: 3.8 Runs Scored/Game (23th in MLB)
Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve should once again be the Astros’ lone All-Star—although he’s more than a token, as he provides good power and an OPS around .700. Former Cub Carlos Peña is drawing walks, and third baseman Matt Dominguez can flash some nifty leather at third. Still, the roster is very much a work in progress. Longtime power prospect Chris Carter slugged .535 in the minors for the White Sox and Athletics organizations without getting a chance to play every day in the major leagues. The Astros gave him a long-overdue opportunity, and he’s leading the team in home runs with 14. Of course, he might also strike out 200 times, but in a lineup that whiffs 9.5 times per game, that doesn’t stand out much.
PITCHING: 5.0 Runs Allowed/Game (30th in MLB)
The pitching staff has been brutal from the outset, but the Astros are more than willing to turn over the organization in search of a few acceptable arms. They still have Bud Norris (5-7, 3.64 ERA) atop the rotation, but that may not last beyond the All-Star break, as he’s one of the few bargaining chips the team has left that could return some young talent. Veteran Jose Veras (14 saves in 17 opportunities) is making the most of his opportunity to close for the first time, and he’s supported by serviceable lefties Wesley Wright and Travis Blackley. In other words, the Astros can hold a lead in the odd event that they get one. But with the team struggling to average one quality start by someone other than Norris every turn through the rotation, leads have been exceedingly rare. The absence of quality talent at the upper levels of the farm system suggests that while the names of the pitchers getting pounded might change, the results likely won’t vary anytime soon.