The Houston Astros were on a roll before Hurricane Ike forced the postponement—and eventually the relocation—of their last two games.
After getting shut down offensively in each of those contests, it’s safe to say their momentum has stalled.
The Astros hope to get back on track as ace Roy Oswalt tries to extend his franchise-record scoreless innings streak on Tuesday night when the club opens a three-game series against the Florida Marlins at Dolphin Stadium.
Houston (80-69) appeared to be out of playoff contention when it fell into last place in the NL Central on July 23. The Astros, however, responded by winning 34 their next 46 games, including 14 of 15 entering the weekend.
The Astros expected to continue their hot streak in Houston, but Ike’s destruction in the Gulf Coast convinced Major League Baseball to move two games against the NL-leading Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee. Playing in front of a largely pro-Cubs crowd, Houston got no-hit by Carlos Zambrano to lose the opener 5-0, then was held to one hit in a 6-1 defeat Monday.
“We couldn’t muster up much energy these last two days,” said Mark Loretta, whose single broke up Ted Lilly’s no-hitter in the seventh inning Monday. “It feels like the regular season will resume tomorrow for us.”
The Astros are likely eager to get back to normalcy after their back-to-back losses dropped them 2 1/2 games behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the wild-card race.
“We need to move on,” said Astros owner Drayton McLane, one of the few people in Miller Park not wearing Cubs blue Monday. “We’ve got a wonderful opportunity to win the wild card. We need to win games.”
McLane has to like his team’s chances with Oswalt (15-9, 3.54 ERA) taking the mound Tuesday. The right-hander, who has lasted at least eight innings in five of his last six starts, hasn’t allowed a run in 32 1-3 innings. He passed J.R. Richard’s franchise record of 31 consecutive scoreless innings with a three-hitter in a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday—his second consecutive complete game.
“I’m feeling better than I did at the beginning of the year,” said Oswalt, who opened the season 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his first three starts. “Seems like the fastball is running a little more, with late life. I’m kind of feeding off it.”
Oswalt is 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 10 career starts against the Marlins, and the Astros are 7-3 in those games.
Though the Marlins (77-72) have struggled for most of the second half, they’ve won five straight to keep their slim playoff chances alive. They’re 5 1/2 games back in the wild-card race.
Florida isn’t conceding, perhaps because it has shown a remarkable ability to overcome big deficits. The Marlins trailed Washington 6-1 on Sunday before rallying for seven runs in the eighth inning of an 8-7 victory—the largest of their 40 comeback wins this year.
“We put a good inning together,” outfielder Alfredo Amezaga told the team’s official Web site. “When you come back in a game like this, your confidence level is even higher.”
The Marlins hope to keep their win streak alive by handing the ball to Chris Volstad (4-3, 3.31) on Tuesday.
The rookie right-hander allowed one run in three innings of Florida’s 10-8 win over Philadelphia last Tuesday before leaving with a bruised shin he suffered when he was hit by a hard grounder. He’s never faced Houston.