Scoring runs has not been a problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who boast one of the best offenses in the league. Getting solid pitching, however, has been.
Pittsburgh (41-47) had 14 hits in Monday’s series-opening 10-7 win over the Astros (41-49) to snap a three-game losing streak and move out of last place in the NL Central.
The Pirates scored six runs in the first two innings on Monday as Ryan Doumit hit his 11th homer and All-Star Nate McLouth hit his 16th. Despite having one of the worst records in the league, Pittsburgh has scored the fourth-most runs in the NL with 430.
“We have 100 percent confidence in our offense,” Doumit said. “As far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t matter who the other team is throwing out there. We’re confident in our ability to put runs up.”
While their offense has the ability to put up runs, the Pirates have a major league-worst 5.17 ERA, and allowed 29 runs in their last four games. They hope Snell (3-7, 5.99) can put an end to the onslaught.
Snell ranked 13th in the NL in ERA (3.73) and seventh in strikeouts (177) last season, but this year has been a struggle for the right-hander. He has just one victory in his last 13 starts, and was placed on the DL with a strained right elbow after allowing four runs, eight hits and four walks in an 8-5 loss to Toronto on June 22.
Making his return at PNC Park should be beneficial for Snell, who has a 3.57 ERA in seven home starts compared to an 8.14 ERA in nine road outings.
Snell is 2-2 with a 5.32 ERA in four career starts against the Astros at PNC Park, but hasn’t faced them there since 2006. This will be his first start against the Astros this season, and in three starts at Houston in 2007, Snell went 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA.
On Monday, the Pirates overpowered a depleted Astros pitching staff, which used seven pitchers in Sunday’s 17-inning loss to Atlanta, and they’ll try to frustrate Tuesday’s scheduled starter Brandon Backe (5-9, 5.22), who has been struggling lately.
After allowing five runs in 12 1-3 innings in his previous two starts, Backe has yielded 11 runs in 12 innings in his last two. On Thursday, the right-hander gave up five runs and seven hits while striking out eight in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has just one victory in his last seven starts.
In his only start of the season against the Pirates on June 5, Backe gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings of a 4-3 loss at PNC Park. He had won his previous four starts versus Pittsburgh, posting a 1.73 ERA in those outings.
The Astros have lost six of seven, and are a major league-worst 11-26 since May 28. They were second place in the NL Central, 1 1/2 games back of the division-leading Chicago Cubs on May 27, and are now 12 1/2 games out.
Carlos Lee had a home run and three RBIs on Monday, and is batting .419 (18-for-43) with three home runs and 11 RBIs during a season-high 10-game hitting streak. Lee has 20 homers and 70 RBIs, and is on the ballot for the final roster spot for the NL All-Star team.