In less than a month, the Houston Astros have gone from baseball’s biggest disappointment to NL wild-card leaders.
The rejuvenated Astros will try to win their franchise-record 13th in a row as they kick off a five-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a doubleheader at PNC Park.
The Astros hit four first-inning home runs en route to a 5-2 victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday, completing a three-game sweep and matching their club record for consecutive victories established from Sept. 3-14, 1999.
The run also matches Tampa Bay for the longest win streak in the majors this season. The Astros have won 20 of 23 since Aug. 15 for the best record in baseball over that stretch.
Wednesday’s win, combined with the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 loss to Montreal, thrust the Astros into first place in the tightly packed race for the wild card.
“I’ve been on clubs throughout my career who’ve won quite a few in a row, but I don’t know if it’s ever been like this,” said Roger Clemens, who earned his 326th career victory Wednesday, tying Eddie Plank for 11th on the all-time list.
Mike Lamb, who had one of Houston’s four homers Wednesday, has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, producing three homers and 15 RBIs over that span.
“We’re on a nice roll right now,” said Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who went 3-for-3 with a homer Wednesday. “It’s kind of been amazing to me, all the home runs we’re hitting. I’ve never seen it quite like this.”
The Astros are trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001, when they won the NL Central.
“We’ve made a charge in this thing and we’ve made a race out of it, but we have more work to do,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “There’s no time for celebration. It’s time to go to work.”
The Pirates, who have endured losing seasons in the last 11 years, have dropped nine of their last 12 games.
After a 2-0 win Tuesday, Pittsburgh had the finale of its three-game series with Milwaukee canceled Wednesday because of rain. The game will not be made up since both teams are out of playoff contention.
The Astros and the Pirates are playing a five-game set because their April 27 meeting was postponed due to cold weather and the threat of sleet and rain.