Baseball is finally back, Opening Day is almost here! The Yankees are in Houston to start their 2014 season -- the same place they ended their 2013 season, when they finished the year with a three game sweep of the Astros.

The Yankees are coming into the season with obvious World Series expectations, while the Astros are still focusing on the future.

No Masahiro Tanaka this series as many were hoping for, but the Yankees will still be sending three quality starters to the mound in their first three games of the season. CC Sabathia will make his sixth straight Opening Day start for the Yanks, Hiroki Kuroda will look to rebound for a terrible finish in 2013, and Ivan Nova will pitch the third game of the season, looking to prove that his great run in the middle of 2013 was no fluke, just real pitching ability.

For Derek Jeter, Houston will mark the beginning of his farewell tour. The Astros are planning a pre-game ceremony before the third game of the series that will include former teammates of Jeter, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. That should be good.

Probable pitching matchups vs. Houston (with 2013 stats):

  • Tue. 7:05 pm: CC Sabathia (14-13, 4.78) vs Scott Feldman (12-12, 3.86)
  • Wed. 8:10 pm:Hiroki Kuroda (11-13. 3.31) vs Jarred Cosart (1-1, 1.95)
  • Thur. 8:10 pm: Ivan Nova (9-6, 3.10) vs Brett Oberholtzer (4-5, 2.76)

Are part of our series previews this season, we'll be bringing in writers from opposing team sites throughout the web. Today, we've got James Yasko, who runs his Houston Astros blog, Astros County, over at astroscounty.com. There you'll be able to find excellent, up-to-date coverage on everything happening with the 'Stros.

I asked James a few questions about what we might be able to expect in this three game series, some thoughts on the current Astros, and even what he thinks about the Yankees:

**Any expectations for the Astros this season? My expectation for this season is that the Astros will vastly improve. Oh they'll still be God-awful, but with fixing the bullpen (a bullpen so bad in 2013 that we started referring to them as the Goatpen) and upgrading at center, I think somewhere between 65 and 70 wins is manageable. If you had told me ten years ago that the Astros winning 65 games was "wildly optimistic," I would have punched you in the mouth. So basically my expectation is that the Astros will be better, still bad, but not bad enough for Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal to wring their hands over the Astros damaging the very fiber of baseball.

**A pitching matchup we should look out for? The Astros have Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, and Brett Oberholtzer going in this series. I don't think the Astros are to the point where pitching matchups matter all that much to me. Cosart is/was a much-heralded prospect, coming from Philly in the Hunter Pence trade, and while his surface-level numbers looked pretty good (1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season), his peripherals weren't as optimistic. So I think what we Astros fans will do more of this season is watch for certain things like Cosart limiting his walks, or Oberholtzer improving on a solid debut to his career in 2013. I do wish that Tanaka was pitching in this series, because there was about a 24-hour window this offseason where it looked like the Astros might actually sign him. But then the Yankees came calling...

**One player to watch for this series? I'll be watching shortstop Jonathan Villar - mainly to see if he evaporates in a cloud of dust from the pressure and grace of standing in the same spot as Derek Jeter for three games. There are a few other names that we are curious about for 2014 - catcher Jason Castro actually had a good season in 2013, and not just "good" by Astros standards - his 4.3 WAR was 4th among ML catchers. But we'll also have our eye on 2B Jose Altuve and CF Dexter Fowler.

**One reason we should pay attention to the Astros this season: Other than "Morbid Curiosity?" I guess the main reason to pay attention to the Astros this season is to see just how quickly a team can tear itself all the way down to the foundation and rebuild with respectability. This process began back in 2010, when Ed Wade traded Lance Berkman (to New York, of course) and Roy Oswalt, and then traded Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn the following year, and then traded basically everybody else in the two years after that. It resulted in a three-year period which we have dubbed "The Crynasty." From 2011-2013 the Astros lost 118 games more than the Rangers (who have the best three-year record in baseball), 115 games more than the Yankees, and 33 games more than the 29th-place Twins. It also resulted in one of the best farm systems in baseball. Now the Astros are actually signing free agents (Feldman, Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers) in an effort to win more at the ML level - but the revolution to respectability needs to start this year.

**And finally, any thoughts about the Yankees? I don't actually hate the Yankees like it's been cool to do for the past, what, 20 years? I've been to Yankee Stadium (the old one) once, and Fenway once - both for Yankees/Red Sox games. As an aside, the Yankee Stadium game was July 4, 2008 and featured Darrell Rasner and a rain delay vs. Josh Beckett. That game took weeks. The Fenway game I attended was May 1, 2006 and was Johnny Damon's first game back to Fenway. But the Yankees fans treated Red Sox fans way better than the Red Sox fans treated Yankees fans. Anyway, I don't have a problem with the Yankees. Your favorite team does business differently than my favorite team. I do wish you could have let us sign Tanaka, though...

Special thanks once again to James, and go visit his site (HERE).

Baseball season is very, very close to getting underway for the Yankees, you guys.