Don't expect the Astros to stand pat at the Trade Deadline like they did last year. Despite a remarkable 60-29 record in the first half of the season and a huge lead in the American League West, the club could use a couple of more arms for the playoffs.
Houston's starting rotation has been slowly getting healthy in July, and the expectation is both Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh could return by the end of the month. Still, the Astros could feel compelled to add another solid arm to the Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers mix.
• Keuchel, McHugh progress toward return
Adding another starter could afford them the luxury of moving steady Brad Peacock back to a valuable long-relief role in the bullpen.
Perhaps Houston's biggest pitching need is in the 'pen, where another lefty and a veteran reliever at the back end could help them shorten games in the playoffs. Ken Giles is a capable closer, and All-Star Chris Devenski is the special weapon in the bullpen. Veterans Will Harris and Luke Gregerson will have roles, but another proven commodity would be welcomed.
The Astros have the prospects to deal, though they may not be willing to give up outfielder Kyle Tucker -- the club's No. 2 prospect -- and pitcher Forrest Whitley, their first-round pick a year ago. There remains intriguing high-end inventory in pitcher Francis Martes and outfielder Derek Fisher, to name a few, plus plenty of quality arms deeper in the system.
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The Astros make a trade for pitching with the A's like they did two years ago in July, acquiring 27-year-old right-handed starter Sonny Gray and reliever Ryan Madson from Oakland in exchange for the righty Martes (Astros' No. 1 prospect), Fisher (4th), outfielder Daz Cameron (9th), third baseman J.D. Davis (13th) and Cuban right-hander Rogelio Armenteros.
What are they playing for?
With the best record in the American League by a wide margin to this point, Houston would be disappointed not to at least reach the World Series.
The road ahead
The schedule isn't especially tough for the Astros to start the second half, though they have 17 out 24 games on the road beginning July 21. Considering the club is 33-11 away from Minute Maid Park, there should be few road bumps en route to the division title.
Keuchel. He was a dominant 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA before missing the final month of the first half with a recurring neck issue and should return by the end of July. A rested and healthy Keuchel in the second half would give Houston the ace it needs in the playoffs.
Prospects to watch
Martes has already made his debut, and Fisher should return in September as an extra player following a nice showing in the big leagues earlier in the year.