Falling into last place in the division in late July didn’t bode well for the Houston Astros’ playoff hopes, but it may have been the spark the team needed to turn its season around.
The Astros look to continue their surge back into contention as they go for their season-high ninth straight win Friday night against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
Houston (74-66) was swept at home in a three-game series against Pittsburgh from July 21-23, falling nine games below .500 and into last place in the NL Central.
Since then, however, the Astros have gone 28-11 with two eight-game win streaks. Houston set a season high by winning eight in a row from Aug. 7-14, and has matched it with the current streak. The Astros haven’t won nine in a row since Sept. 20-28, 2006.
Randy Wolf kept Houston’s current streak alive with his first complete game since April 24, 2004 as the Astros became the first team to sweep a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field this season with a 4-0 win Wednesday night.
Houston is in fourth place in the wild-card race.
“It gives us something to play for in September,” Wolf said. “I know that we still have a ton of ground and some miracles for this to happen, but it’s one of the reasons you don’t give up.”
That’s a lesson Astros first baseman Lance Berkman knows well. He was on the 2004 team that went 36-10 down the stretch to win the wild card on the last day of the season, and the 2005 club that started 15-30 before advancing to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Though he’s seen it before, Berkman knows this Houston team will need some lucky breaks to complete another dream comeback.
“I don’t know that you can say that we’re all the way back in it, but we’re certainly a lot closer than we were,” he told the team’s official Web site. “We’ve been around here for miracles before, so anything can happen. I don’t know that we have to win out, but we have to come pretty close to it.”
That’ll be a lot easier if the Astros continue to get strong pitching from their rotation. Houston starters have a 1.70 ERA during the team’s win streak.
“A lot of (the team’s success) is due to the fact that we have gotten great starting pitching,” Berkman said. “You can’t have a streak like this without guys throwing the ball well.”
The Astros will put the streak on the line with Brian Moehler (10-5, 4.02 ERA) taking the mound Friday. The right-hander has won five of his last six decisions with a 3.16 ERA in that seven-start stretch.
Moehler gave up three runs in six innings of an 8-5 win over St. Louis on Saturday. He’s 1-1 with a 6.11 ERA in six career games - two starts - against Colorado.
Like the Astros, the Rockies (66-75) have reason to be optimistic despite their slow start.
An eight-game losing streak at the end of June dropped Colorado into last place in the NL West with a 32-51 record. But the Rockies have since gone 34-24 to pull back into contention in baseball’s worst division. They’re in third place, six games behind division-leading Arizona.
Colorado, however, failed to complete a three-game sweep of division rival San Francisco on Wednesday, when it managed four hits in a 9-2 loss.
The Rockies hope to rebound by handing the ball to Ubaldo Jimenez (9-12, 4.19), who was tagged for six runs in 3 2-3 innings of a 9-4 loss at San Diego on Saturday. The right-hander gave up three runs in 5 2-3 innings in his only previous start against Houston on April 20.