The defending NL West champion Astros got off to a promising start in 2006, posting their highest win total in April in eight years.
Nearly six disappointing weeks later, the Astros (29-31) will be trying to win three straight for the first time in more than a month when they open a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves (29-31) at Minute Maid Park on Thursday.
Houston was a half-game behind St. Louis and Cincinnati for the NL Central lead after going 16-8 in April, the most victories the Astros have had in the month since going 17-10 in 1998.
Houston’s outstanding play ended when April did, however. The Astros are 13-23 since the start of May and have fallen 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Cardinals and Reds.
The Astros had dropped five in a row before winning the final two games of their three-game series against Chicago for their first series victory since May 19-21.
“One of our biggest problems is we’ve not been able to establish that flow in a game,” Houston manager Phil Garner said. “The last couple nights, that’s more the flow we like to see.”
The Astros have lost their last four series openers, and haven’t put together a three-game win streak since May 2-4.
Houston has struggled on the mound and at the plate. The Astros’ ERA is 4.80, and the team is batting .254—both second-to-last in the NL.
One of the players struggling offensively is veteran second baseman Craig Biggio, who’s 8-for-41 (.195) in his last 13 games. Biggio, though, is 10-for-31 (.323) in his career against the Braves’ scheduled starter for Thursday, John Thomson.
The Astros’ pitching problems are due in part to Andy Pettitte (4-7, 6.03 ERA), who’s still trying to return to his All-Star form of last year when he posted 17 wins and a 2.39 ERA. Pettitte will take the ball Thursday looking to bounce back from yet another rough outing.
The left-hander allowed seven runs in six innings of a 7-5 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, the second time in three starts he’s given up seven. Pettitte is 1-3 with a 9.43 ERA in his last four outings, and has allowed six runs or more in five of his 13 starts this season after doing that only twice last season.
The 12-year veteran has had success against Atlanta, going 4-1 with a 3.46 ERA in seven career starts. Pettitte, who’s never faced the Braves at Minute Maid Park, is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts against Atlanta since joining Houston three seasons ago.
Houston has lost four straight to Atlanta, and seven of its last nine to the Braves at Minute Maid.
As poorly as the Astros have been playing, the Braves have been just as bad.
Atlanta fell 5-2 to Washington on Wednesday to complete a 2-8 homestand. Braves’ opponents averaged 7.0 runs in the last five games.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had one like this,” manager Bobby Cox said of the homestand.
Atlanta hopes to get back on track Thursday by returning to the road. Prior to the 10 straight games at Turner Field, the Braves won six of their last seven on a nine-game trip.
Atlanta hopes third baseman Chipper Jones can continue his red-hot hitting in Houston. Jones is batting .447 (34-for-76) with 14 doubles, five home runs and 22 RBIs in 20 games at Minute Maid Park. He’s 6-for-16 (.375) with three doubles and three RBIs in his career against Pettitte.
After posting a 1.32 ERA in six April games, right-hander Thomson (2-5, 4.65 ERA) has a 7.27 ERA in his last seven starts.
Thomson allowed eight runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 13-9 loss to Arizona on Saturday. He’s given up 15 runs and 18 hits in lasting just 5 2-3 innings in two straight defeats.
“Right now, I don’t know what to say,” said Thomson, who has an 11.09 ERA in his last four starts. “It’s just frustrating. The last four or five starts, I don’t know what’s going on.”
The nine-year veteran is 4-5 with a 6.25 ERA in nine starts against the Astros.