PREVIEW: Astros return home to face struggling Cubs

Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Astros return home to face struggling Cubs

In their continued search for offense from an underperforming, injury-compromised lineup, the Houston Astros on Sunday welcomed the first career home run from rookie Yainer Diaz.

Diaz socked a solo shot in the fourth inning of the Astros’ 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in the rubber match of that three-game series, a victory that allowed Houston to complete a nine-game road trip with a 5-4 mark.

Houston will open a three-game series and six-game homestand against the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

Diaz clubbed 52 home runs and posted a .510 slugging percentage across five seasons and 340 games in the minors prior to making his debut last September. As a ballyhooed prospect, the power potential was always present, but it wasn’t until Sunday that Diaz cleared the fences in the majors.

“When you see a guy’s track record, and you know what he can do, even though it’s at another level,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You know what power that he does have, but he’s got to get that first one out of the way.”

Diaz served as the Astros’ designated hitter on Sunday but has worked as the backup catcher to Martín Maldonado. There has been some discussion regarding the frequency Diaz will work behind the plate, with some calls for increased opportunities as a lineup mainstay.

“Yainer is still learning how to call the game,” Baker said when asked if Diaz will catch more in the near future.

Left-hander Framber Valdez (3-4, 2.38 ERA) gets the starting assignment for the Astros on Monday. He was excellent in his previous start, allowing one run on three hits while recording 12 strikeouts over eight innings in a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on May 9. Valdez is tied for the major league lead in quality starts (seven), and among American League pitchers is third in innings (53) and sixth in ERA and strikeouts (57).

Valdez will make his first career appearance against the Cubs. He is 8-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 career interleague starts.

Right-hander Jameson Taillon (0-2, 6.41) is the scheduled starter for the Cubs in the series opener on Monday. He is coming off his shortest start of the season last Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing four runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings in the Cubs’ 6-4 loss. Taillon did not factor into the decision in what was his second start since returning from the 15-day injured list on May 4. He was sidelined with a left groin strain.

Taillon is scheduled to make his fourth career start against the Astros, against whom he is 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA. In his lone start in Houston on July 11, 2021, he allowed two runs on three hits — including two home runs — and two walks with four strikeouts over six innings but did not factor into the decision of the New York Yankees’ 8-7 loss. Taillon graduated from The Woodlands High School just north of Houston.

After taking Friday’s opener of a three-game set with the Minnesota Twins that was the first leg of a three-city, nine-game road trip, the Cubs suffered a second consecutive blowout loss in the rubber match Sunday, 16-3. The Cubs were outscored 27-4 over the final two games of the series and have dropped five of their last seven games.

Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman entered Sunday with seven quality starts. He did not survive the Twins’ seven-run third inning and allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks while recording only eight outs. The Cubs’ rotation entered the series fourth in the majors with a 3.36 ERA but ended it ninth at 3.79.

–Field Level Media

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