The Houston Astros spent much of the season as a veteran team wallowing near the bottom of the standings.
With a rebuilding project underway, they’re looking like serious spoilers in the NL Central.
The St. Louis Cardinals ask Chris Carpenter(notes) to stop Houston from a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night, but the Astros will have newcomer J.A. Happ(notes) on the mound as they seek an eighth consecutive victory.
The Astros (47-59) have been realistically out of contention since starting 9-21, but they may be revealing a bright future after trading away franchise mainstays Roy Oswalt(notes) and Lance Berkman(notes) before Saturday’s deadline.
With several inexperienced players in its lineup, Houston has piled up 57 runs while winning a season-high seven straight. The Astros fell one run short of matching the franchise single-game runs record in an 18-4 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday.
“I was hoping for one of two things, either the 10-run rule or the seven-inning thing in the minor leagues when you play a doubleheader,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “We finished it. It was agony.”
For Houston, rookie shortstop Angel Sanchez(notes) had career highs with four hits and six RBIs, while third baseman Chris Johnson(notes) added three RBIs. Johnson, a 25-year-old rookie, is batting .435 with 18 RBIs in 17 games since the All-Star break.
It’s not the first time the Cardinals (59-48) have run into problems against Houston this season. The Astros have won six straight at St. Louis - the franchise’s longest win streak there - and they were the last visiting team to pull off a sweep at Busch Stadium, winning three games May 11-13.
At home this year, St. Louis is 2-6 against Houston and 35-12 against all other opponents.
Trailing first-place Cincinnati by one-half game in the Central, the Cardinals hope Carpenter can cool down the Astros. In four starts since the All-Star break, the right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA, helping the Cardinals to four victories.
Carpenter (11-3, 2.93 ERA) pitched eight masterful innings during St. Louis’ 1-0, 10-inning victory Friday against Pittsburgh, the third time in four starts he’s completed eight innings.
“I’m trying to get quick outs,” Carpenter said. “I think my command of the fastball has been better and that’s probably why I might be getting a little deeper.”
The right-hander, who’s 6-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 15 career starts against Houston, comprises half of an intriguing pitching matchup.
The Astros got Happ (2-0, 1.27) from Philadelphia last week as part of the Oswalt trade, and the left-hander was impressive in his Houston debut, limiting Milwaukee to two hits in six innings of Friday’s 5-0 win.
“We got a pretty good pitcher, he was real good tonight,” Johnson said. “We got him a little lead so he could relax. I’m sure he had some nerves at the start but he was pretty nasty.”
A forearm strain has limited Happ to four starts this season.
He went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA last year, finishing second in NL rookie of the year voting, but struggled against St. Louis, allowing five runs and 10 hits in six innings of the Phillies’ 8-1 loss July 24, 2009.