PHILADELPHIA -- As Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow looks for ways to upgrade his pitching staff at Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, he reminds himself daily that he is operating from a position of strength.
"We're not going to overpay dramatically, because we're not in a situation where we have to,'' Luhnow told ESPN at Citizens Bank Park. "We have a pretty good team, and if we can improve it without giving up too much of our future, we will.''
The Astros entered Wednesday's series finale against the Phillies with a 67-33 record and a 17-game lead over the second-place Seattle Mariners in the American League West. They've been fueled by an offense that leads the majors in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases and OPS.
Houston's pitching also has been effective, with a lot less national acclaim. The Astros rank first among the 30 MLB clubs with 1,018 strikeouts, and they're second in batting average against (.234) and ERA (3.98). Staff ace Dallas Keuchel will return from a neck injury on Friday and join Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers Jr. in the rotation for a three-game road series against the Detroit Tigers.
Houston has been mentioned in speculation as a potential landing spot for Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, the two most coveted starters available in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. deadline. If the Astros add a starter, it most likely will be someone who is accomplished enough to slot in with Keuchel and McCullers at the beginning of a playoff series.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch has received a lot of mileage out of his middle- and back end-of-the-rotation starters. Mike Fiers went 6-3 with a 2.51 ERA over a span of 12 starts entering Wednesday's outing against the Phillies. Brad Peacock has struck out 97 batters in 71⅓ innings as a starter and reliever. And Charlie Morton threw seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball in a 5-0 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday.
One of those three pitchers will have to shift to the bullpen now that McHugh and Keuchel are back from the disabled list. Peacock, the most versatile member of the group, appears to be the leading candidate to pitch in relief.
Luhnow made it clear the Astros are aiming high in their deadline discussions with teams.
"I think if we are going to acquire a starting pitcher, that person is going to have to be a clear upgrade to the group [we have], and that's a very small list of pitchers,'' Luhnow said. "To a certain extent, that makes things a little bit easier.
"Right now, the rotation is healthy. Whoever we get, we're not acquiring them to help us win the division. We're acquiring them to help us in the postseason. It's a very advantageous position to be able to focus on that exclusively. That's what we're doing.''