Over the past three seasons, the Houston Astros (32-39) have been miserable, losing exactly two thirds of their games with a cumulative record of 162-324 over the past three seasons. Their management, led by general manager Jeff Luhnow, has engaged in a concerted effort to trade away any veterans of any value in order to accumulate prospects, both via trade returns and the ensuing high draft picks. Of course, any strategy geared around losing will attract plenty of scrutiny and scorn from the rest of the baseball world, but it appears their unorthodoxy is paying dividends.
The Astros’ farm system was rated fifth-best in baseball after the 2013 season by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and has only strengthened with a talented crop in the 2014 MLB Draft, including No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken. Additionally, some of their prospects are beginning to graduate and make a big league impact. Outfielder George Springer, drafted 11th overall in 2011, has slugged 12 home runs in 52 games this season, translating to an impressive 37-homer pace over 162 games. First baseman Jonathan Singleton, one of the prospects acquired from the Phillies in exchange for Hunter Pence, recently debuted after signing a lucrative contract extension and has already hit four home runs in his first 13 career games.
As one might expect, an influx of minor-league talent has brought about better baseball in Houston. After a 13-27 start, the Astros have reeled off baseball’s second-best record since May 14th at 19-12, just behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ 21-10 mark. Now far from doormats, the Astros are a force to be reckoned with.
On the home front, the Washington Nationals (35-33) are returning from a road trip that began spectacularly and ended horrifically. After winning five of the first six games, including three against the MLB-best San Francisco Giants, the Nats dropped the series’ final four games, including three in St. Louis. After bashing their way to 32 runs in the series’ first six games, Washington mustered just four over the last four, and will look to get back on track against the Astros’ 25th-ranked pitching staff. The Nationals will also be bolstered by the return of starter Gio Gonzalez, who has been on the DL with a shoulder injury since May 17th.
In April, the Nats took the first two games of this series in Houston by a combined score of 11-3. But this time around, a much more dangerous Houston team won’t go without a fight.
Note: All stats are over the past week.
In The Zone
Jonathan Singleton (1B): 5-for-17, .294/.409/.706, 2 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI
Dexter Fowler (CF): 7-for-25, .280/.308/.480, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Jose Lobaton (C): 5-for-11, .455/.538/.455, 1 R, 2 BB
Jonathan Villar (SS): 4-for-20, .200/.200/.200, 0 XBH, 7 K
Ryan Zimmerman (LF) 3-for-23, .130/.167/.174, 0 R, 5 K
Probable Starters (season stats)
6/17, Tanner Roark (5-4, 2.92 ERA, 3. 41 FIP, 3.61 K/BB) vs. Dallas Keuchel (8-3, 2.38 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 4.17 K/BB)
6/18, Gio Gonzalez (3-4, 4.62 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 2.65 K/BB) vs. Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.98 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 2.06 K/9)