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Know Your Enemy: Houston Astros

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Hey, look! It's an old divisional rival, now an interleague opponent.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the days when the Cubs and Astros would play 18 times a year?

I'm still having somewhat of a hard time getting used to the Astros in the American League, even though they were an A.L. playoff team last year and won the wild-card game and took the eventual champion Royals to five games in their division series.

It would figure, wouldn't it, if the Cubs finally got to the World Series... and there, waiting for them, was the same team the White Sox beat to end their WS drought.

But hey, we'd take that, I'm sure.

The Astros are starting to build a fine team of young players just as the Cubs are. Jonathan Singleton, George Springer and the excellent Carlos Correa, probably the best of the three, anchor a solid team that's little changed from last year, except, as the Cubs, they have a year's worth of playoff experience.

Carlos Gomez, acquired at the deadline last year, now has a full year for Houston in the outfield, and Houston-area native Colby Rasmus, who had a good year in his hometown, decided to accept the Astros' qualifying offer to stay.

Dallas Keuchel, who had a breakout year in 2015, leads a strong rotation that includes young horses Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh and some other guys whose names do not begin with "Mc," including former Cub Scott Feldman.

Perhaps the key acquisition by the Astros was Ken Giles, who came over in a trade that sent former No. 1 draft pick Mark Appel to the Phillies. Giles can throw 100 miles per hour and will become the team's closer, with Luke Gregerson returning to a more familiar bullpen role. That makes Houston's pen as good as any in this division. They should compete for the division title again.

Luis Valbuena, always a fan favorite at Wrigley with his bat flips, had a bizarre year for Houston. He hit 25 home runs and 18 doubles in 434 at-bats. Those accounted for 44 percent of his 97 hits. He didn't qualify for the batting title (nine PA short) but if he had, his .438 SLG would have ranked 37th out of 69 qualified hitters, just above Brian McCann.

The Cubs will be in Houston for a three-game series September 9, 10 and 11.