Based on the recent play of both clubs, the Nationals probably wish they’d been able to put the Astros away when they had that chance.
The Astros look to move over .500 for the first time in 2009 on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, where they’ll finish a suspended game against the Nationals and open a new, four-game series against the team with the majors’ worst record.
Houston (41-42) and Washington (24-58) will begin the night by finishing a game they started at Nationals Park on May 5. Each team blew a three-run lead in that mistake-filled contest, which was tied 10-all when it was suspended due to rain in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Astros manager Cecil Cooper said he’ll treat the conclusion of the game just like any other extra-inning situation, noting that he’ll have to be careful about which players he already used two months ago.
“We’ll have to know who’s going to be available,” Cooper told the Astros’ official Web site. “I’ve got both lists of who I’ll have and who they have, and you have to try to be ready for that. Other than that, I don’t know what you can prepare for.”
In the first 10-plus innings of the game, the two then-last-place clubs combined for 13 walks, three errors and 18 runners left on base. The Nationals capitalized on the Astros’ poor defense and worse pitching in the sixth inning, scoring six runs on only two hits to take a three-run lead before letting Houston back in it with their own bumbling play in the seventh.
The Astros appear to be in much better position to win that game now than they were in early May. They’ve won nine of their last 14 games overall and five of their last six series at home.
Lance Berkman(notes) had two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored and Wandy Rodriguez(notes) pitched a five-hitter as Houston beat Pittsburgh 5-0 on Wednesday. The win put the Astros in position to reach .500 for the first time since they split their first two games of 2009 and claim a winning record for the first time since the end of last season.
The Nationals haven’t had as much luck turning around their dismal campaign. They fell 10-4 at Colorado on Wednesday for their sixth straight road loss and 12th defeat in 16 games overall.
John Lannan(notes) (6-5, 3.45 ERA) could be the best candidate to help Washington snap out of its recent funk. The left-hander has been the starter in five of the team’s 10 wins since June 6, going 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in six games in that stretch, all quality starts.
Lannan allowed three runs in eight innings of a 5-3 home victory over Atlanta on Saturday. He’s won all three of his starts against the Astros, posting a 3.71 ERA.
Houston will counter with Russ Ortiz(notes) (3-4, 4.11), who gave up a season-high eight runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 9-0 loss at San Francisco on Saturday. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.31 ERA in five starts since he was moved from the bullpen to the rotation in mid-June.
Ortiz is 11-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 18 starts against the Washington franchise, which he hasn’t faced since having a seven-start winning streak against it snapped in 2005.