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Phillies-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

There's no question Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have played significant roles in the Philadelphia Phillies' second-half turnaround. They just haven't been quite as good as Kyle Kendrick.

Kendrick looks to continue his recent tear Saturday night when the visiting Phillies try to remain relevant in the NL playoff picture by handing the Houston Astros their 100th loss.

Philadelphia's vaunted pitching staff had a 4.23 ERA prior to the All-Star break - good for 22nd in the major leagues - but it's posted a 3.29 ERA that's the third-best in baseball over the past two months.

Lee and Hamels have lowered their ERAs in the second half and Halladay has won six of his past eight starts, but no one has made a recent transformation like Kendrick (9-10, 3.83 ERA). After going 2-8 with a 5.01 ERA in his first 15 starts, the right-hander is 5-1 with a 1.49 ERA in his past six.

Kendrick held Miami to one run and two hits in a 3-1 win Monday, a performance that left the Marlins impressed.

"He has to have a lot of confidence, obviously, in his pitches, in his ability to locate, to throw any pitch in any count," Miami third baseman Greg Dobbs told the Phillies' official website. "I think you're just seeing the development of a very talented pitcher."

Kendrick, who was born in Houston, is 0-2 with a 5.50 ERA in three starts against the Astros, none since 2010. This is his second start at Minute Maid Park.

He'll be happy for an offensive effort similar to what Philadelphia (73-72) gave Hamels on Friday. The Phillies scored four in the first inning and didn't look back, pounding out 16 hits in a 12-6 rout of the Astros (46-99).

Thanks to the Cardinals' loss in Los Angeles, Philadelphia is just three back of the NL's second wild card.

"We don't have too many (games) where we can kind of relax,'' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "At the same time, tonight, that was good for us. Getting some hits and scoring some runs was good for us.''

While Philadelphia is fighting to stay in the playoff race, all that's left for the Astros is the inevitability of their second straight 100-loss season after not having any in the franchise's first 49 years of existence.

It might be tough to avoid that with Dallas Keuchel (1-7, 5.35) on the hill. The left-hander had a 1.35 ERA through his first three major league starts, but has posted a 6.93 ERA in his previous 10 outings.

Keuchel gave up one run against the Cubs in Monday's start. While he lasted only four innings, he was pleased to finally be feeling better after a lengthy sinus infection.

"This is the first time I felt good in about three starts, so I was happy about that,'' Keuchel said. "The two-seamer wasn't finishing. Maybe I was just kind of over amped because I felt good and got rid of the sinus infection.''

This is Keuchel's first look at the Phillies, whose .238 average against lefties is among the majors' worst.

Switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins would certainly prefer to be facing a righty. He's 6 for 18 over his last four games with three homers, all from the left side. He's hitting .191 (17 for 89) without a homer against left-handers in his last 43 games.

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