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The Prodigal Son Remains: Cubs vs. Astros Preview, Monday 8/31, 7:05 CT

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As you all likely know by now, the Cubs did not make any waiver-deadline deals at all, preferring to retain the two pitchers claimed, Aaron Heilman and tonight's starter, Rich Harden. (Hopefully, Heilman won't be actually placed in too many games once rosters expand, which can happen as early as tomorrow.)

For me, with the (admittedly slim) possibility of a playoff spot still available, I'm glad Harden is still a Cub. He's been their best pitcher since the All-Star break and this series may be a great chance for the Cubs to sneak closer to the wild card lead. The Cubs are 9-5 vs. Houston this year, and won three of four when the Astros were last at Wrigley Field a month ago. Since then, Houston has been in free-fall; they have lost 12 of their last 17 road games, are 11-17 overall, and just got swept by a bad Diamondbacks club.

For the four teams still in front of the Cubs in the wild-card race, their schedules through Thursday are as follows:

Giants: off today, then three at Phillies
Braves: four vs. Marlins
Marlins: four vs. Braves
Rockies: off today, then three vs. Mets at home

Obviously, as Cubs fans we'd root for the Braves and Marlins to split their series. We hope the Phillies can take care of a hot Giants team, and... um... er... well, as for the Mets, maybe they can at least take one from Colorado.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Rich Harden
Rich Harden
Cubs
vs. Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt
Astros
8-7 W-L 7-5
3.99 ERA 3.86
143 SO 119
52 BB 38
21 HR 17
vs. Hou -- vs. Cubs

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Rich Harden 8-7 23 22 0 0 0 0 124.0 103 61 55 21 52 143 3.99 1.25


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Roy Oswalt 7-5 26 26 3 0 0 0 161.0 157 69 69 17 38 119 3.86 1.21

Remember when Roy Oswalt used to come in and dominate the Cubs? (And everyone else, for that matter.) Oswalt, now 31, is no longer a top pitcher, though he's still capable. He is, however, only 2-6, 3.77 in his last 10 starts against the Cubs, including a loss, a no-decision, and a game in the last series at Wrigley when he had to leave the game with back problems. Aramis Ramirez hits only .250 (16-for-64) vs. Oswalt, but that includes 3 doubles, 4 HR and 15 RBI.

Rich Harden has made two starts against the Astros this year, going 1-1, 4.85; both of those starts were before the All-Star break. Usual Cub nemesis Carlos Lee is only 4-for-17 against Harden and the only current Astros to have homered off him are Lance Berkman (who missed the July series) and, of all people, Geoff Blum. Harden's 143 strikeouts rank 15th in the NL. There are 15 other pitchers who have fewer K's despite having more (in some cases MANY more) innings than Rich.

For the second day in a row, WGN will be carrying tonight's game. It's also on FSN Houston. For other games today see the MLB.com Mediacenter.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Astros site The Crawfish Boxes.

Overflow comment threads will post today at 8 pm, 9 pm and 9:45 pm CDT.

Discuss amongst yourselves.