After winning for the first time since the All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates go for their third straight series victory over the Houston Astros when the teams close a three-game series at PNC Park on Sunday.
The Pirates (41-55) won nine of their last 13 games of the first half, but were outscored 42-20 during a season-high seven-game losing streak after the break. They snapped the skid with a 7-3 victory over the Astros on Saturday - their first win in nearly two weeks since beating the Chicago Cubs on July 8.
“It’s been hell, you know that?” manager Jim Tracy said. “That’s what it’s been - this has been frustrating for all of us, with the progress we were making leading up to the break.”
Despite Pittsburgh’s recent struggles, Saturday’s win was the club’s seventh in eight games against Houston (41-56) this season. The Pirates swept both of these teams’ previous series before having that win streak snapped with a loss Friday.
Adam LaRoche went 3-for-4 with two RBIs on Saturday and is 6-for-11 in his last three games. After batting .226 at home in April and May, the first baseman is hitting .370 at PNC Park since the beginning of June.
Outfielder Jason Bay, on the other hand, is suffering through an extended slump. Bay, who had 35 home runs and 109 RBIs while batting .286 last year, is hitting .246 and is on pace for his lowest home run total as a full-time major leaguer.
Bay, who has 13 homers, drove in two runs with two sacrifice flies Saturday, but went 0-for-2 to fall to 7-for-53 (.132) with 17 strikeouts this month.
Saturday’s loss was the sixth in eight games since the break for the Astros, who fell into fifth place in the NL Central - one-half game behind the Pirates and a half-game ahead of last-place Cincinnati.
“We can’t seem to break through on these guys,” said Astros manager Phil Garner, whose team is averaging 2.4 runs per game against the Pirates this year.
Houston has lost 25 of its last 32 road games, and hasn’t won a series away from Minute Maid Park since taking two of three from the Chicago White Sox from June 8-10.
The Astros’ road struggles could continue with Woody Williams (4-11, 5.37 ERA) taking the mound Sunday. Williams is 1-8 with a 5.58 ERA in 12 road starts, including 0-5 with a 5.90 ERA in six starts since his last road victory May 9 in Cincinnati.
The right-hander gave up four runs in six innings Monday and took the loss in Houston’s 4-3 defeat at Washington. Williams is 7-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 15 career starts against the Pirates, but has lost both outings against them this season while posting a 4.63 ERA.
Bay is 4-for-9 in his career against Williams, and has a .305 career average against the Astros.
Pittsburgh will counter with Shane Youman (2-1, 4.24), who suffered a 6-2 loss Tuesday after giving up five runs in five innings against Colorado. He had won his first two starts of the year while posting a 3.00 ERA.
The left-hander pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Astros on Sept. 27, his only career appearance against them.