Atlanta (70-67) at Houston (67-70)

Fair Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 71° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Tue Sep 8, 2009
Preview | Box Score | Recap

In the midst of their longest losing streak since April, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox acknowledged his team will likely have to win every game on this road trip to stay in serious contention for the NL wild card.

That’s easier said than done.

The Braves look to avoid losing a season-worst six straight games Tuesday night when they open a three-game series against the red-hot Houston Astros, who are coming off a four-game sweep of the defending World Series champions.

After defeating Florida 4-3 on Sept. 1, Atlanta (70-67) moved within three games of wild card-leading Colorado, but nothing has gone right since.

The Braves, who lost to Cincinnati 4-2 in 12 innings Sunday, have dropped five in a row, falling 7 1/2 games back of the Rockies. Atlanta has matched its season-worst skid set April 14-18, and hasn’t lost six straight since Aug. 17-22, 2008.

The Braves’ offense is responsible for much of this slide, plating 14 runs while batting .185.

“We picked a real bad time to all not hit,” Chipper Jones(notes) told the Braves’ official Web site. “It just doesn’t seem like anybody is swinging the bat real well.”

Jones is a big part of the offensive woes, batting .121 in his last 20 games and dropping his average 29 points to .272.

After being off Labor Day, the offense hopes to regroup as the team opens a six-game road trip.

“Maybe it will be good to get away from these three losses,” Cox said. “We need to just about sweep on the road to get back in this thing.”

That won’t be easy, though. Following the three games in Houston, where the Astros have won eight of nine, the Braves have three against NL Central-leading St Louis, which is 23-6 since Aug. 7.

Houston (67-70) is riding high after of a four-game sweep of Philadelphia. The Astros won 4-3 on Monday behind another big game from Hunter Pence(notes).

The All-Star right fielder homered, doubled and drove in three runs Monday and finished the series batting .462 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

“It’s just baseball, you can’t explain it,” Pence said. “Hopefully, I can keep riding it, keep going in there, trying to get a good pitch and making a good swing.”

Felipe Paulino(notes) (2-7, 6.62 ERA) takes the ball for the Astros, looking to build on an encouraging outing.

Paulino allowed two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in six innings of a 2-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, the right-hander’s first start for Houston since yielding five runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-1 loss to San Francisco on Aug. 4.

In his only outing of the season against the Braves on May 2, Paulino gave up one run and three hits in two innings of relief.

Atlanta counters with Javier Vazquez(notes) (11-9, 3.18), who is likely glad the Braves won’t play Florida again until the final week of the season.

Vazquez gave up five runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-7 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday, but didn’t get a decision. It was the second time in three starts he yielded five runs to Florida. Excluding his four starts against the Marlins, the right-hander has posted a 2.77 ERA in his other 23 outings.

This will be Vazquez’s first start against the Astros since June 25, 2006, when he was tagged for nine runs and 10 hits in six innings of a 10-9, 13-inning loss for the Chicago White Sox.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Vazquez Mia vs. F. Paulino Bos
15-10 Record 3-11
2.87 ERA 6.27
238 K 93
44 BB 37
1.03 WHIP 1.67


Tuesday, Sep 8