Phillies-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

An improbable run by the Philadelphia Phillies has pulled them within three games of the second NL wild card after being on pace to miss the playoffs just a few months ago.

Helped by a timely stretch of schedule against lesser teams, the Phillies will face a third straight division cellar dweller as they open a four-game series against the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

After looking like it was out of postseason contention with a 37-51 record July 13, Philadelphia (72-71) has made an amazing comeback. Led by their pitching staff, the Phillies have won a season-high seven straight and 15 of 19.

Philadelphia moved within three games of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot with a 3-1 win over Miami on Wednesday to complete the three-game sweep. Cliff Lee gave up one unearned run over seven innings and Jimmy Rollins hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh.

Rollins' homer was his second in as many games. He's batting .324 (24 for 74) with five homers and 15 RBIs his last 19 games to raise his average 11 points to .249.

"We've got a few teams ahead of us, but all we can control is what we can control," Lee told the Phillies' official website. "If we continue to play the way we have since the All-Star break, really, we've got a pretty good chance."

While Rollins has sparked the offense, Philadelphia's staff has been at the center of this run, recording a 2.64 ERA over the last 19 games.

The Phillies' last two series have come against teams in last place in their respective divisions - Colorado and Miami - and they'll face the majors' worst team this weekend.

Philadelphia is enjoying its longest winning streak since a nine-game run from July 29-Aug. 6, 2011.

Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 4.24 ERA) will take the mound on short rest Thursday in his fourth major league start as he tries to extend the Phillies' win streak.

The right-hander threw 76 pitches in the second game of a doubleheader against the Rockies on Sunday, giving up four runs and eight hits over four innings of a 7-4 victory.

Cloyd will be making his first start against the Astros (45-98), who dropped two of three against the Chicago Cubs and are two defeats shy of a second straight 100-loss season.

Houston fell 5-1 Wednesday when Fernando Abad failed to last five innings despite giving up one run and the bullpen faltered.

"We're trying to win a ballgame, and we want to win as many as we can," manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "If Abad was throwing strikes early, he might have had a chance of getting out of it, but at that point, I felt it was time to move on."

Houston will hand the ball to Lucas Harrell (10-9, 3.83), who despite a poor outing his last time out, has been a bright spot this season, recording a 2.83 ERA over his last 10 starts.

He gave up three runs and walked four in six innings of a 5-3 win over Cincinnati last Friday, but avoided a loss after Houston rallied with three runs in the ninth.

"I felt like I was awful today," Harrell said. "I couldn't throw pitches where I wanted."

The right-hander, who hasn't won since Aug. 14, fell to the Phillies on May 14, giving up three runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-1 defeat.

Philadelphia swept a two-game set against Houston in May at home.

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