During their early struggles, the Houston Astros insisted they were going to put everything together soon. Lately, they’ve been delivering on that promise.
The Astros look to extend their win streak to six games and pull to .500 for the first time this season as they open a three-game series against the NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Friday night.
Houston (11-12) averaged 3.7 runs and batted .228 while opening the season 6-12 - its worst start since 1983. Throughout that stretch, players and coaches said better times were right around the corner.
Those times appear to have arrived. The Astros have averaged 8.2 runs and batted .335 while putting together their longest win streak since they won nine games in a row from Sept. 20-28, 2006.
“A lot of guys are getting hot at the same time,” outfielder Hunter Pence, who’s 9-for-19 (.474) during the streak, told the Astros’ official Web site. “We have a lot of good hitters, so it was just a matter of time.”
The Astros are also getting solid pitching from their rotation, which has delivered four quality starts during the streak. Minor-league call-up Jack Cassel ended the team’s run of quality starts on Thursday, but still held Cincinnati to three runs in five innings of Houston’s 5-3 victory.
“The pitching’s come through. They picked us up today,” Pence said. “It’s one of those things where you have to get (the hitting and pitching) going at the same time.”
Houston first baseman Lance Berkman had three hits - including a home run - and three RBIs Thursday, and is batting .533 (8-for-15) with six walks, two homers and nine RBIs during a five-game hitting streak that has coincided with the Astros’ run.
Berkman was 4-for-11 with a home run as Houston dropped two of three games in a home series against St. Louis (14-9) from April 7-9.
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols went 5-for-12 with two homers in that series.
Pujols, batting .377 overall, went 2-for-2 and reached base in all five plate appearances during St. Louis’ 6-2 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night. He has reached base safely in all 23 games this season and leads the majors with a .525 on-base percentage.
Pujols will try to continue his strong start against Houston’s most effective starter so far. Shawn Chacon (0-0, 2.77 ERA) has opened his first season with the Astros with four consecutive quality starts, although he’s still seeking his first victory.
The right-hander held Colorado to three runs in six innings Sunday, when the Astros scored three runs in the eighth to win 6-4. He doesn’t have a decision in 11 career games, including four starts, against the Cardinals, while posting a 4.22 ERA.
Braden Looper (3-1, 5.49) will start for St. Louis, hoping to bounce back from his worst outing of the year. The right-hander had a three-start winning streak snapped on Sunday when he was tagged for seven runs in three innings of an 8-2 loss to San Francisco.
Looper, a reliever until he was moved to the rotation last year, is 3-1 with a 3.56 ERA in five starts against the Astros. Berkman is 8-for-20 (.400) with five walks against him.