The Houston Astros are finally living up to their preseason hype.
Houston will try to maintain its improved play and keep pace in the wild-card race as it opens a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Astros have won a season-high six straight and 14 of their last 17 games to move within three games of the wild-card leading Chicago Cubs.
Houston completed a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday with a 9-3 win. Lance Berkman hit a tiebreaking home run in the fifth inning and Jeff Kent capped a five-run seventh with a grand slam to lead the Astros.
In sweeping the three-game series against the Reds, the Astros hit 10 home runs and scored 28 runs.
“We got some big hits, some big blows,” manager Phil Garner said. “We got three runs the old-fashioned way, then ‘Boom.’ We got five runs just when we were trying to put another run on the board.”
Garner will miss the series opener after being suspended on Thursday for his role in last week’s testy series with the Cubs. Reliever Dan Wheeler was given three games for hitting Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee with a pitch in the ninth inning Sunday after both teams had been warned about beanballs.
The Pirates head to Houston after splitting a four-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers. Pittsburgh has dropped five of its last seven games, including Thursday’s series finale in Milwaukee, 7-1.
The Pirates, just 1-6 in Houston this season, know they will be facing a surging Astros’ squad.
“Hottest team in baseball,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll show up anyway.”