The Astros are every bit as bad as their 36-74 record would suggest. The White Sox' and their 11-game losing streak are worse over the last 10 games, though Houston is baseball's worst team over the past 20 games (4-16), worst team over the past 30 games (6-24), worst team at home (18-37), and worst team against foes at .500 or better. Their run differential of negative-1.5 is pretty much twice as bad as any other team in the game, a byproduct of the fact they've given up more runs than anybody (5.2 per game). And they're a major-league worst 26-56 against right-handed starters -- a fact surely not lost on John Farrell when he plugged Steven Wright into his rotation, and arranged things so his staff features John Lackey, Wright, and Ryan Dempster over the three-game set.
So it'll be a disappointment if the Sox don't leave Minute Maid Park with a sweep, although they are responsible for giving Tampa Bay two of its six losses over the last 31 games. Here are five Astros to watch as Houston attempts to play spoiler.
1. Jason Castro, C. He was the lone Astro in the All-Star game, though it wasn't necessarily because Houston needed representative. He's a good, young catcher who has struck 26 doubles as well as 13 homers, whose .784 OPS equates to a 116 adjusted-OPS, and puts him among the best offensive backstops in the AL. Illustrative of his important to his team in particular, he's Houston's No. 3 hitter.
2. Chris Carter, DH. He's neither the Hall of Fame receiver, nor the former Red Sox utility man, but he is a slugger. The DH leads the team with 19 homers, and his 49 walks are respectable -- but he's struck out 145 times, which is part of the reason he's hitting .213. He can be pitched to.
3. Jarred Cosart, SP. The 23-year-old right-hander has been ranked among the top 100 prospects in all the minor leagues each of the past two seasons, and he has shown why since being called up. In four starts he's averaged seven innings, and having yet to allow more than one earned run in any single appearance his ERA is 0.96. He's slated to start against the Sox and Dempster on Wednesday night.
4. Brett Oberholtzer, SP. Another young starter, the 24-year-old pitches for Houston tonight, trying to follow up on a first career start that couldn't have gone much better: In Baltimore, he went seven innings, allowing six hits but no walks or runs. Part of the package the Astros received from the Braves for Michael Bourn two years ago, it will be his fifth major-league game overall.
5. Matt Dominguez, 3B. Houston's third baseman doesn't walk much, as evidenced by his .271 on-base percentage, though he has connected for 15 homers in 390 plate appearances, and over the past month he's been better as an overall hitter, batting .295 with a .333/.449/.782 slash line. Typically batting near the bottom of the order, he may be the only guy Sox pitchers have to worry about that far down the lineup.
As we mentioned earlier, the Astros struggle against right-handed pitching as much as anyone. Take a look at the team individually against righty starters to see who's most vulnerable:
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