The Houston Astros surprised some when they took on the role of buyer at last week’s trade deadline. Though the club remains on the outskirts of playoff contention, it’s playing like one that looks like it wants to join the race.
Houston fell into last place in the NL Central after getting swept at home by Pittsburgh in a three-game series from July 21-23. Despite seemingly being out of the postseason chase, the Astros acquired left-handed starter Wolf (7-10, 4.60 ERA) from San Diego on July 22, and later traded for right-handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins.
Wolf is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in two starts with Houston, and Hawkins has struck out six in 2 1-3 scoreless innings spanning four appearances.
Those two newcomers have helped the Astros (55-59) go 9-4 since the Pirates series. Houston is in sixth place and 8 1/2 games out in the wild-card race.
The Astros blew a lead in consecutive losses to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday and Wednesday, but got back on track by topping the Reds 7-4 on Thursday night.
Astros first baseman Lance Berkman went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs to help starter Roy Oswalt improve to 21-1 against Cincinnati. Berkman is batting .369 in 38 games at Great American Ball Park, where he leads non-Reds players with 18 homers and 47 RBIs.
“This is a place where I’ve had success in the past, and you always have a little comfort when you’ve done well in a place,” Berkman told the Astros’ official Web site. “I try not to read too much into it. (But) you get a good feeling when you go to certain places, and this is a place where I enjoy playing.”
While Berkman has helped fuel Houston’s surge, Cincinnati (52-64) has had little offensive spark lately. The Reds have averaged 3.2 runs and batted .224 while losing 11 of their last 13 games.
“It’s tough to keep getting behind like that, especially when the guy over there is a pretty tough pitcher,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said Thursday. “It’s tough to play catch-up consistently, and when he gets ahead like that, he can relax and throw whatever he wants at any time in the count.”
Baker hopes his club will fare better against Wolf, who got his first win with Houston by holding the New York Mets to six hits while striking out seven in five innings of a 4-0 victory Sunday.
Wolf is 7-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 13 starts versus the Reds, and has held them to two runs and eight hits while striking out 20 in 14 innings spanning his last two starts against them - both victories.
The Reds will counter with Johnny Cueto (7-11, 5.00), who’s 0-3 with a 6.30 ERA in his last five starts. The right-handed rookie gave up four runs in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Washington on Sunday.
Cueto has lost each of his first two career starts against the Astros, giving up five runs and eight hits in each game.