The way things were going for the Houston Astros a month ago, winning back-to-back games hardly seemed like a reason to get excited. How times have changed.
The Astros look to win their third straight game for the first time in six weeks Wednesday when they continue their three-game series against the Texas Rangers, who may be without major league RBI leader Josh Hamilton.
Houston (36-41) defeated Texas 4-3 in Tuesday’s series opener, spoiling the Rangers’ (39-39) shot of moving two games over .500 for the first time since they were 78-76 on Sept. 22, 2006.
With Tuesday’s victory, the Astros won for the third time in four games and managed to win two in a row for the first time since May 23 and 24. They can win three straight for the first time since a four-game run May 9-12.
It didn’t seem like it would take so long for Houston to compile a three-game winning streak this time last month.
On May 27, Houston was tied for second place with St. Louis in the NL Central, 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Chicago Cubs. The Astros dropped 17 of their next 20, however, and are now fifth in the Central, 12 games behind the division-leading Cubs.
The Rangers, though, may play without Hamilton after he left Tuesday in the fifth inning with left knee inflammation.
Hamilton, who has 19 home runs and a major league-best 76 RBIs, had two operations on that knee in 2006, but Rangers manager Ron Washington doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
“You’re always concerned when one of your big boppers is out of the lineup,” Washington said. “But at least we know there’s no structural damage.”
Texas has enjoyed some recent success against Houston ace Roy Oswalt (6-7, 4.84 ERA), who had a rough outing against the Rangers on May 17, as he was tagged for six runs, 11 hits and struck out just one in six innings of a 6-2 loss. He is 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in his last four starts versus the Rangers since defeating them on June 24, 2005.
Oswalt has alternated good and bad starts in his last three outings, allowing three runs in 14 2-3 innings in his two wins, but giving up seven runs - three earned - in 5 2-3 innings in his loss.
On Friday, the right-hander yielded two runs and seven hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay, helping the Astros snap an eight-game skid.
The Astros were happy to see Lance Berkman break out of his funk and hit his 21st homer Tuesday. Berkman went 0-for-9 in Houston’s weekend series at Tampa Bay, his first hitless series this season.
“I felt pretty good in Tampa,” he said. “Baseball’s a funny sport. I’ve yet to be able to explain why things like that happen.”
Berkman’s had much better luck with the Rangers, going 12-for-24 with four home runs, nine RBIs and eight runs during a six-game hitting streak against them.
Texas dropped its second straight to the Astros after winning the first two games of the series at Rangers Ballpark.
Scott Feldman (1-3, 4.61) takes the ball Wednesday looking to help push the Rangers back over the break-even mark.
Feldman allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings against Atlanta on Thursday of a 5-4 victory, but was not a factor in the decision. The right-hander has not won since defeating Oakland on May 4.
Feldman has run into his biggest problems on the road, where he has been tagged for 17 runs in 17 innings over his last three outings.
This will be his first career start against the Astros after allowing four runs in 5 1-3 innings over four relief appearances against them.