Astros-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs spent the past few seasons rounding out the bottom of NL Central.

Their poor play is spread over two divisions now.

In the first interleague matchup between these former division rivals, Dallas Keuchel will seek to help Houston beat the Cubs on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The Astros (28-46) are in last place in the AL West and own the league's worst record but head into Chicago having won six of eight. They earned all but one of those wins on a seven-game homestand and took two of three from another former NL Central opponent, Milwaukee, to begin this week.

Former Cubs slugger Carlos Pena helped his team finish off that series with a 7-4 victory Thursday by hitting a three-run homer in the 10th inning.

"What a great homestand. I thought we were in every single game. This is a lot of momentum moving forward," said Pena, who hit a team-best 28 homers for Chicago in 2011.

Pena will face his former club and former Tampa Bay teammate Matt Garza (1-1, 4.98 ERA) for the first time Friday. The two played together from 2008-10 and were members of an AL championship team in the first of those seasons.

Keuchel (4-3, 4.23) will try to help Pena finish on the winning side of that reunion while improving on a 3-1 record and a 2.13 ERA in his last four starts. The left-hander bounced back from his only defeat over that stretch by beating the other Chicago team Sunday.

Keuchel gave up two runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 5-4 victory over the White Sox.

"All you can ask of your guys is consistency, and no doubt that Dallas has given us that more than anybody in the rotation, even when we've been pitching so good lately," manager Bo Porter told the team's website. "He's figured out how to get guys out with all of his pitches."

Keuchel did not get a decision in his only start against the Cubs on Sept. 10, allowing one run over four innings in a 4-1 home defeat.

Chicago (29-42), which is tied with the Brewers for last in the division, edged Houston in the season series 8-7 for the second straight year in 2012 but has won 11 of 15 meetings at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, though, enter having dropped four of five and are 2-7 at Wrigley this month.

They scored one run for the second straight game Thursday, falling 6-1 in St. Louis. Welington Castillo had three of the team's five hits while Starlin Castro's average for the month dropped to .127 (9 for 71).

"I'm working hard every day, I know I can get out of this," Castro said. "When I get out of this, I'll be good for the rest of the season."

Garza allowed two runs over 5 1-3 innings to beat the Astros at home last June after going 0-3 with a 4.64 ERA in his first five matchups with them.

He is coming off a solid showing, tossing seven scoreless innings against the New York Mets on Sunday after getting tagged for a career-worst nine runs in five innings in a loss to Cincinnati five days earlier.

The right-hander, though, did not get a win Sunday as reliever Carlos Marmol's struggles continued in a 4-3 defeat.

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