HOUSTON -- The Astros once again have their eyes set on October as they begin the second half of the season only two games out in the American League Wild Card race and 5 1/5 games out in the AL West, trailing their nemesis, the Rangers.
With the Aug.1 Trade Deadline looming, don't be surprised to the see the Astros make a move. They've traded away several top prospects in the last couple of years, but the farm system is deep enough they could swing another trade. They could certainly add a starting pitcher to a rotation, like they did last year by trading for lefty Scott Kazmir.
The bullpen is deep, and a look at the lineup yields few windows to add any players, especially with top prospect Alex Bregman likely set to make his debut in the infield later this year. Adding Bregman and a starting pitcher could give the Astros the kind of depth in the lineup and the rotation that could allow them to overtake the Rangers.
If the Astros stand pat, it wouldn't be surprising. After all, they've posted the best record in the Major Leagues (31-13) since May 23 and have already cut their deficit behind the first-place Rangers -- now 5 1/2 games -- nearly in half in the past month alone. But general manager Jeff Luhnow will certainly explore all opportunities to put his team in a better position in the second half.
If the Astros are looking to add a starting pitcher, they have some trade chips in the Minor Leagues. Hard-throwing right-hander David Paulino has terrific numbers at Double-A, but was suspended earlier this year for violating team policy. Triple-A third baseman Colin Moran could soon be blocked by Bregman, which would make him expendable. The Astros nearly dealt outfielder Derek Fisher to the Phillies last year and could dangle him again.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Astros are only two games out in the AL Wild Card race, but they're focused on overtaking the Rangers in the AL West.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The remaining schedule is tough with road series left against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Pirates, Rangers and Indians. Houston's division hopes will come down to the nine remaining games against Texas, which is 9-1 against the Astros this year. Six of those nine games are in Houston, however.
Left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel has started to pitch like the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner he was, going 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his final five starts before the break. The Astros won all five of those starts and need their ace to lead the way in the second half.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Every Astros fan is clamoring for Bregman, who tore up Double-A (.297 average, 14 homers, 46 RBIs) before a terrific start at Triple-A (.389 average, five homers, 14 RBIs in eight games). His eye-popping performance in the Futures Game cemented his prospect potential.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.