Don't rule those Houston Astros, six games behind the National League Central-leading Cardinals, out of the playoff hunt yet. One of the best second-half teams and a frequent midseason trader in recent seasons, the Astros acquired one of the trade market's most rumored names, Aubrey Huff, from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Wednesday in exchange for two minor-league prospects, right-hander Mitch Talbot and infielder Ben Zobrist.
Huff's addition should provide an instant boost to a Houston offense that has struggled for much of the season; the Astros rank 11th in the NL in runs per game (4.6) and dead last in batting average (.255). He averaged .290-28-101 numbers from 2003-05, and even if you look at his .283 batting average and eight homers to date and wonder whether he's the same hitter he was during his .311-34-107 career year of 2003, keep in mind that Huff's 2006 numbers have been hurt by an early-season disabled-list stint and a horrible April and May. More important is the fact that Huff has batted .416 (42-for-101) with six homers in his last 26 games, returning closer to the form he displayed in his prime. He ranks 23rd on the ESPN.com Player Rater over the past 30 days as well. He should take over at first base for Houston, with Lance Berkman remaining in right field.
Don't worry too much about Huff's transition to the NL. Sure, learning a new set of pitchers does put any hitter at short-term risk, but remember that interleague play showed us that the NL doesn't have much of a competitive advantage over the AL these days, and if there's any NL destination in which Huff should make a quick adjustment, it's in Houston's Minute Maid Park, one of the game's best hitting environments.