Pirates welcome former division rival to town

Pirates welcome former division rival to town

PITTSBURGH -- The American League West is supposed to be about as tough as divisions come.

The Rangers reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011, the Angels piled superstars the previous two offseasons, and the Athletics always seem to find ways to win without any big names.

This winter, the division welcomed the Houston Astros -- the lowly Astros, who won only 55 games last season in the NL Central.

And as if joining one of baseball's toughest divisions wasn't difficult enough, the Astros had to switch leagues and the makeup of their roster, something Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is anything but envious of.

"It's very tough to transition that quickly," Hurdle said. "I know they've taken some steps accordingly, but you build your club to be a National League team for years."

Despite the AL West not living up to its expectations this season -- the Rangers are the only team above .500 -- the Astros haven't fared any better for it.

Entering Friday, Houston is tied with the Marlins for the worst record in baseball at 11-30, 16 games out of first place with just 25 percent of the season played. It only got worse for them Friday, as they blew a 4-1 lead and lost on an error with two outs in the ninth.

Hurdle, like any manager would, said that his Pirates will take the same approach against the Astros as they would against anyone else. But he admitted the familiarity with Houston makes things a little easier.

"You might have a little more in-depth [knowledge] because you had a little more hands on with them," he said.

In addition to the familiarity of playing the Astros, the Pirates will also welcome back a few former Bucs, including pitcher Erik Bedard, who will start Saturday, and outfielder Robbie Grossman, who was in the Pittsburgh system from 2008-12.

Astros manager Bo Porter said there are obvious differences in the two leagues, but he's excited to get back to play some National League-style baseball. Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez said the familiarity with Pittsburgh and some other Central teams should alleviate the usual differences in Interleague Play.

"A lot of those teams we played last year and are a little more familiar with, but we're starting to get a little more familiar with the American League teams," Dominguez said.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.