After a terrible start to the season, the Cardinals (12-10) are rolling with four series victories to their credit and seven wins in their last 10 games. They'll take their show on the road Tuesday to Houston to play the not-so-hot Astros who are ranked third from the bottom in the Yahoo! Sports power rankings with an 8-14 mark for the season.
Houston has really struggled against National League Central division foes with a 3-6 record. The Astros are 4-6 at home.
Perhaps the brightest spot so far this season for Houston is the emergence of former Cardinals farmhand Brett Wallace at first base. Wallace leads the Astros in hitting with a .324 average with only one home run -- but six doubles -- to his credit. There has been some talk since the Birds dealt Wallace to the Athletics as part of the package that landed Matt Holliday that his stock had fallen. He's been traded three times already in his young career, which is often a bad sign. He hit only 222 in a third of a season with Houston last year and managed only two homers in the coziest hitters park in the National League. But Wallace seems to have adjusted to major league pitching and may pan out yet.
There was a lot of hand wringing when the Birds dealt Wallace -- and even more when he was later swapped to the Blue Jays and then to Houston where he would potentially haunt the Cardinals with a division for for the next decade or so. But it seems like everything worked out the best for everyone. The Astros, who are in rebuilding mode, have a young player building toward the future. And the Cardinals, who are trying to avoid rebuilding mode, landed -- and re-signed -- a cornerstone player in Matt Holliday.
The good news, when it comes to Hunter Pence, is that he leads Houston with 17 RBIs. The bad news is that he leads the Astros with three home runs. Three? Seriously? Did the Crawford Boxes disappear or something? Pence is apparently doing his part to swing for the fences. He's got 21 strikeouts in 88 at bats which makes it pretty amazing that he's batting .273.
Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman should have an interesting homecoming for his first game against his home town team. Berkman ranks second among Cardinals hitters in batting average (.377), home runs (6) and RBIs (15). Matt Holliday is first in average at .400 and Albert Pujols leads in homers (7) and RBIs (17). Pujols is hitting .275 over his last 10 games, but while his average -- .250 for the season -- isn't where it might be expected to be, he's hit five of his seven homers in the last week. That's just one short Berkman's six longballs the week before, a mark that had not been equaled by the Cardinals since Mark McGwire did it in 1998.
In the opener the Astros will send Bud Norris (1-1, 4.91) to the hill against Jaime Garcia (3-0, 1.44). Norris, the proverbial thorn in the side of the Cardinals, against whom he is 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA. A career 16-14 pitcher, in two seasons and change, nearly a third of his career victories have come against St. Louis. Garcia has lost his only career start against the Astros. He gave up 10 his and eight runs -- although only four of them were earned -- in five innings last season.
J.A. Happ (1-3, 6.94) will start the middle game against the new and improved Kyle Lohse (3-1, 2.01). Happ was clubbed around in his last start against the Mets, a 9-1 loss. He gave up six runs on six hits -- but two of them were homers. He's 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals. Lohse pitched the best game of his career his last time out against the Nationals, a complete game, two hit shut-out. He's 6-7 with a 3.19 ERA over the course of his career against Houston.
In the finale Nelson Figueroa (0-3, 8.55) will take on Kyle McClellan (3-0, 2.16). Figueroa lasted only four innings in his most recent start, giving up six earned runs on six hits and five walks during a 14-7 loss to Milwaukee. McClellan, who has never started against the Astros, is 0-2 with a 2.89 ERA against them as a reliever.