Pittsburgh (62-73) at Houston (46-90)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 43° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Wed Aug 31, 2011
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Houston Astros have a tall task to avoid their first 100-loss season, needing 17 wins in their final 26 games. On the bright side, four of those are against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Houston tries to complete its first three-game home sweep in almost exactly one year Wednesday night against the hapless Pirates, who may be more thrilled than any club to play their final game in August.

It may be too late for the Astros (46-90) to avoid surpassing a franchise-record 97 losses, but recently they’ve looked little like the doormat they’ve been all season.

After winning one series from June 20-Aug. 14, Houston has taken three of its final five to close out the month. It’s outhit the Pirates 26-9 in two games this week, pounding out 13 for the second consecutive night in Tuesday’s 8-2 victory.

“We are pushing each other all the time trying to make each other better,” left fielder J.D. Martinez(notes), who has 14 RBIs in his last 10 games, said of the Astros’ young core. “We are confident.”

That’s put Houston in position for just its second sweep this season - it took three from the Cubs from May 30-June 1 - and its first at Minute Maid Park since beating the Cardinals three times from Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2010.

While the Astros are closing out August on a positive note, Pittsburgh (62-73) can’t finish the month fast enough. After opening August two games above .500 and sitting 4 1/2 games out of first place, the Pirates have dropped 21 of 29 and fallen 18 1/2 games behind Milwaukee.

Pittsburgh has a major league-worst 5.49 ERA in August after entering the month with a 3.43 ERA, but James McDonald(notes) (8-6, 4.22 ERA) has been the lone rotation member to maintain any sort of consistency.

He’s given up three runs over six innings in three of his five starts, the exact line he put up Friday in St. Louis courtesy of Yadier Molina’s(notes) three-run homer in the second inning. McDonald left with the lead, but Pittsburgh’s bullpen couldn’t hold on in a 5-4 loss.

“Overall, I was pleased,” McDonald said. “Day in, day out, I want my team to know what they’ll get from me. I just want to be a consistent major league pitcher.”

He’s been good against the Astros, going 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA in two starts this season, and he’s especially had the number of Clint Barmes(notes). Houston’s shortstop is 1 for 10 with four strikeouts lifetime versus McDonald.

The Astros, meanwhile, can say with near certainty they know what they’re getting nearly every time J.A. Happ(notes) (4-15, 6.03) takes the mound - a loss.

Houston was 4-18 when the left-hander started prior to sending him Aug. 6 to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where Happ went 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts.

The story was the same upon his return to the majors Friday at San Francisco - the Astros lost 2-1 - but Happ was better. He held the Giants to two runs - one earned - and four hits over six innings.

“I got the loss but I’m trying to be done with negatives and think there were a lot of positives to take out of this game,” said Happ, who has the majors’ highest ERA among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings. “If I throw the ball like that more often than not, I’ll come up with the wins.”

Happ is 2-2 with a 2.37 ERA in six starts against the Pirates, whom the Astros visit for three games starting Monday.

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Starting Pitchers

J. McDonald ChC vs. J. Happ Sea
9-9 Record 6-15
4.21 ERA 5.35
142 K 134
78 BB 83
1.49 WHIP 1.54

Scoreboard

Wednesday, Aug 31