Yahoo! Sports: NL Wild Card favorites
Heading into their third different city to play their third consecutive games, the surging Houston Astros try to continue gaining ground in the NL Central as they open a three-game series Tuesday with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Following a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium over the weekend, the Astros (78-78) arrived in Philadelphia at 4 a.m. EDT Monday to play a make-up game from a Sept. 5 rainout. Their win, coupled with St. Louis’ 6-5 loss to the San Diego Padres, have allowed the Astros to close with 2 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the NL Central.
“We’re starting to play some pretty good ball now,” said Garner, whose team has won six in a row. “I’ve said it for months now—we have yet to play our good baseball. This is startintg to look like our good baseball.”
Houston has matched its longest winning streak of the season, established Aug. 25-31. The NL wild card-leading Phillies had a 4-2 lead heading into the seventh before Orlando Palmeiro hit a two-run single and Mike Lamb drove in the go-ahead run with an infield base hit.
“It turned out to be best for us,” Houston manager Phil Garner said after Monday’s win. “It worked out.”
The Astros end the season with a three-game series at Atlanta.
Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.31) looks to shake off recent inconsistency in this crucial start. The veteran left-hander lasted five innings on Thursday against the Cardinals and went just 2 2-3 innings in his previous start Sept. 12 against St. Louis. He has been bothered by an elbow injury and also spent time with his ailing father, which caused him to skip a turn in the rotation in between those starts.
“I felt like I was very inconsistent as far as my location,” said Pettitte, who walked four, threw a wild pitch and was called for a balk. “I felt rusty. I definitely felt rusty. I havne’t thrown a lot in the last 12 days.”
Pettitte is 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA in seven starts against the Pirates. He has won his last four, including an Aug. 26 start in which he allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings of a 7-4 win.
The Pirates (65-91) will hand the ball to Ian Snell, one of their most successful pitchers in seven years. Snell (14-10, 4.67) is trying to become Pittsburgh’s first 15-game winner since Todd Ritchie accomplished the feat in 1999.
The 24-year-old had started just six games in his previous two seasons, but predicted during spring training that he would win 15 games.
“It was just a personal goal that I set to keep my focus and keep me wanting to do good,” he said. “For me to reach it and get to it is awesome. I don’t think many people have done that in their first year.”
The right-hander has allowed just three runs in his last two starts, spanning 13 innings, and limited the Los Angeles Dodgers to one run in six innings of a 10-6 win Tuesday.
He is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five appearances—four starts—against the Astros. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts this year.
Pittsburgh has lost four straight, and is coming off a three-game sweep by San Diego this past weekend.