Pittsburgh (66-82), two games ahead of last-place Houston (64-84), has a chance to finish ahead of the Astros for the first since joining them in the NL Central in 1994.
This is the last meeting of the season between these teams, with Pittsburgh having already won the season series with 10 wins in 14 meetings. The Pirates have won their season series with the Astros for the first time since 1999, when they won seven of the teams’ 12 matchups.
Maholm (10-14, 4.32 ERA), making his first start this month after being sidelined due to lower back stiffness, has posted a 1.12 ERA en route to winning each of his two starts against Houston this season. The left-hander has won three straight starts versus the Astros dating back to last season, and is 3-2 with a 4.21 ERA in six career starts against them.
Maholm was pitching well prior to his injury, winning three straight decisions and allowing two runs or less in three of his last four starts. In his last outing, Maholm gave up two runs and 10 hits in seven innings against Cincinnati on Aug. 28, but did not get a decision as Pittsburgh won 3-2.
Houston will counter with Brandon Backe (0-1, 5.91 ERA), who is making his third start following a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander gave up four runs and six hits in five innings against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night as Houston won 5-4 in 11 innings.
Backe is 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA in four starts and three relief appearances against the Pirates, but hasn’t faced them since last year.
Backe will be facing a Pittsburgh lineup that is averaging 5.8 runs in its last 12 games, with the Pirates winning seven times in that span.
Pittsburgh right fielder Xavier Nady was in the starting lineup Saturday for the first time since being hit in the head by a pitch in St. Louis on Sept. 3. He hit fifth and went hitless in five at-bats as the Pirates lost 9-7 to the Astros on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said Nady could have played in this series’ opener—a 4-3 Pirates’ win Friday night—but the manager held him out against Astros ace Roy Oswalt.
“I think he’s fine,” Tracy said. “I think he’ll be all right.”
The top five hitters in Pittsburgh’s lineup, including Nady, went 2-for-21 Saturday as Houston snapped a three-game losing streak. The Astros, meanwhile, had five players with two hits.
Houston rookie Josh Anderson has made two straight starts. He played center field, batted first and went 2-for-5 with an RBI in each game.
“We have to find out about these young players and what better time than now,” Astros interim manager Cecil Cooper said. “We’ve just got to keep playing them and let him get comfortable. This is a tough place to play center field.”