Nats face upstart Houston Astros to begin homestand

Nats face upstart Houston Astros to begin homestand
June 16, 2014, 8:45 pm
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With the Atlanta Braves coming to town this week for four games, it's easy to overlook the Nats' first opponent of this upcoming homestand.

The Houston Astros - owners of the worst record in baseball each of the last three seasons - will be in Washington for a two-game series before the NL East main event gets started.

So, what about those Astros? The Nationals have played them already this season, a two-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Nats won both of those by a combined score of 11-3 and not once did it look like the Astros could hang with their interleague foe.

The Astros, however, have come a long way since April 30, the day they were swept by the Nats. Since that game Houston is 23-20 and has a nucleus of young talent that is beginning to emerge.

Take Tuesday's starter, Dallas Keuchel. The Nats did not face him in their late April series, but he has easily been the Astros' best pitcher this season. Keuchel is 8-3 this year with a 2.38 ERA, the ninth-best mark in the majors. He's a 26-year-old lefty the Astros found in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.

The Astros also have two young rookie sluggers the Nationals will face this week. George Springer and Jon Singleton both figure to get Rookie of the Year consideration after their impressive starts this season.

Springer, 24, has been a revelation for Houston so far. Through 52 games he has 12 home runs, 36 RBI and a .811 OPS. In June he became just the second rookie ever to hit seven home runs in a seven-game span.

The Astros took Springer 11th overall in 2011, the same year the Nats picked Anthony Rendon at No. 6. They are currently the top two position players from the 2011 first round in career WAR.

Singleton was picked in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 before going to Houston in the trade for Hunter Pence. He was called up earlier this month after hitting 14 homers in 54 games at Triple-A. His power has already translated to the majors, as the 22-year-old has four home runs in 13 games.

Washington has won nine of their last 10 games against Houston, and the Astros are still a last place team at 32-39 overall. Recent history is certainly on the Nationals' side, but this week they will face an up and coming team that could surprise people in the near future.