Last season, the Houston Astros’ charge up the NL Central standings came just a little too late. They’ve started that run a bit earlier this year.
Searching for their fourth straight win and ninth in 11 games, the Astros will also try to add to their franchise-record streak of road victories against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the continuation of a four-game series Saturday night.
By going 14-1 from Aug. 27 to Sept. 11, Houston reduced a 16-game deficit to Chicago to 8 1/2, but had only 15 games to catch the Cubs. Enduring cancellations due to Hurricane Ike and a move of their home series with the Cubs to Milwaukee, the Astros dropped five straight to end their rally.
After beginning this season 19-29, Houston was 9 1/2 games behind St. Louis on May 30, but the Astros have gone 27-15 since then, including an 8-1 victory Friday.
With their fifth straight triumph at Dodger Stadium, Houston (46-44) moved within three games of the Cardinals and into a second-place tie with the Cubs and Milwaukee.
Unlike last season, the Astros have plenty of time this year for a run at their first division title since 2001.
“We’re playing pretty good baseball right now,” left fielder Carlos Lee(notes) said. “We kind of started real slow, but lately we’ve been doing a lot of things right, and that’s what it takes to win ballgames.”
Mike Hampton(notes) (5-6, 4.52 ERA) is expected to make his first start against the Dodgers since May 14, 2005. Pitching for Atlanta, the left-hander exited that game after 2 1-3 scoreless innings because of a strained left forearm.
A week later, Hampton made the first of nine trips to the disabled list in his six years with the Braves, a span that included missing the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Hampton is 8-7 with a 4.59 ERA in 19 career starts versus Los Angeles and he’ll try to help improve the Astros’ 18-7 record against NL West foes. He’ll also look to bounce back from last Saturday’s 13-2 loss to Washington in which he was tagged for five runs and nine hits over 3 2-3 innings.
Despite the home return of slugger Manny Ramirez(notes) following his 50-game drug suspension, Houston has outscored the Dodgers 11-1 in the series as Los Angeles (56-34) has gone 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
“If we’re going to be a first-place team, we’re going to have to shrug off this stuff,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose major league-leading squad hasn’t lost three straight this season.
Kershaw has gone 4-0 with an 0.76 ERA over his last six outings. The Dodgers have won each time he’s been on the mound, including Sunday’s 7-4 victory in Milwaukee in which he allowed one run and two hits over six innings.
Kershaw, 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA all-time against Houston, gave up six runs and eight hits over 4 1-3 innings in an 8-5 loss April 21 at Minute Maid Park.
The Dodgers are 15-15 at home since winning a franchise-record 13 in a row there to open the season.