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Astros enter 2nd half with eye on rotation help

@brianmctaggart
July 10, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros endured a rash of injuries to star position players in the first half and still managed to hit the All-Star break with a comfortable lead in the American League West. They are primed to make a run at their second World Series in three years. While

HOUSTON -- The Astros endured a rash of injuries to star position players in the first half and still managed to hit the All-Star break with a comfortable lead in the American League West. They are primed to make a run at their second World Series in three years.

While star outfielder George Springer and second baseman José Altuve missed a sizable amount of time in the first half with injuries, shortstop Carlos Correa and utility infielder Aledmys Díaz should come off the injured list after the break, putting Houston’s offense at full strength. With rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez in the mix, the Astros could have one of the deepest lineups in baseball.

The Astros’ charge to a championship could hinge on whether they can land another starting pitcher to add to All-Stars Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and the steady Wade Miley. Brad Peacock has been inconsistent and could be better used in relief, and the fifth spot in the rotation has been a revolving door.

Current status: Buyer
Yes, the Astros are one of the best teams in the AL this year, but they won’t sit on their hands in July. They won’t say it publicly, but the team has to be considering a possible AL Championship Series matchup against the Yankees and how they might match up against the Bronx Bombers.

New York wasn’t healthy when it was swept by Houston in April, and the Astros were hobbled when the Yankees won three of four from them in the Bronx two weeks ago. To get past the Yankees -- or perhaps even the Twins -- the Astros need another proven arm in the rotation. They pulled off a huge deal for Verlander two years ago and it catapulted them to a title. Can they do it again?

What they are seeking
Verlander and Cole, both of whom made the All-Star Game for the second year in a row, are a formidable 1-2 combination, and Miley did a nice job in the first half by going 7-4 with a 3.28 ERA in 18 starts. Miley was terrific in the postseason for the Brewers last year, so his playoff experience looms large.

Still, the Astros need another starter to plug into the rotation with Verlander, Cole and Miley. That would allow them to push Peacock to the bullpen. They were forced to start their No. 29-ranked prospect, Jose Urquidy, twice in the final six games of the first half because of injury and underperformance at the back end of the rotation. They need another arm.

What they have to offer
Despite sending away prospects the past few years in trades to land Brian McCann, Cole, Verlander, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, among others, the Astros’ cupboard is far from bare, but injuries have complicated the matter.

Top pitching prospects Forrest Whitley (the club's No. 1 by MLB Pipeline) and Corbin Martin (No. 4) are both hurt, while Alvarez (No. 3) is in the big leagues to stay. No. 2 prospect Kyle Tucker probably remains untouchable, but the Astros have enough enticing pitching and middle-infield prospects in the Minor Leagues to get a deal done.

Possible scenario
Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, a free agent at the end of the season, is a pitcher to keep an eye on for the Astros. With an upper-90s mph fastball that he can throw up in the zone and a good curveball, the 29-year-old is exactly the kind of pitcher Houston’s advanced analytics department and pitching coach Brent Strom could take to the next level like they did with Cole and Charlie Morton.

The Mets have almost no choice but to trade Wheeler, and he’ll come at a much lower cost than, say, the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who does have a terrific postseason resume. Wheeler has never pitched in the playoffs, but Morton had only one playoff game under his belt before the Astros turned him into a postseason stalwart in 2017, capped by a four-inning performance to end Game 7 of the World Series.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.