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.
|September 05, 2012||Placido Polanco||15-Day DL||Lower back inflammation|
|August 31, 2012||Raul Valdes||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus in right knee|
|August 29, 2012||Cole Hamels||Day-to-Day||Gastrointestinal illness|
|August 29, 2012||Vance Worley||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in right elbow|
|August 28, 2012||Domonic Brown||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee soreness|
|August 24, 2012||Brian Schneider||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|September 07, 2012||Jose Altuve||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left abdominal|
|August 30, 2012||Marwin Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Torn ligament, left ankle|
|August 28, 2012||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|August 22, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Bruised right index finger|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
HOUSTON (AP) -- Philadelphia's recent surge was slowed by an unlikely foe.
Pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie delivered a two-run double in the eighth inning and the lowly Houston Astros stung Philadelphia, rallying for a 6-4 victory Thursday night that ended the Phillies' seven-game winning streak.
That run had pushed the Phillies within three games of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card spot.
"The percentages in baseball, sooner or later you are going to get beat," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "At the same time, I didn't mean for it to happen tonight. We had a chance to win the game, it was sitting right in front of us. The bottom line is that we didn't add on runs, but we didn't execute either."
Philadelphia couldn't hold an early 4-0 lead. Lowrie's two-out hit put the Astros ahead 5-4.
"We had opportunities and Lowrie got a big hit for him," Philadelphia's Ryan Howard said.
Matt Dominguez hit a three-run homer for Houston, which has the worst record in the majors.
Philadelphia's bullpen had pitched four scoreless innings after an early exit by starter Tyler Cloyd before running into trouble in the eighth.
Phillippe Aumont (0-1) took over in the eighth with a 4-3 lead and walked Jason Castro with one out. Pinch-runner Jordan Schafer was caught stealing on a strong throw by catcher Erik Kratz from his knees.
But Aumont walked Dominguez and plunked pinch-hitter Scott Moore on the foot.
Aumont pitched in both games of a doubleheader on Sunday and in each of the last three games.
"That is a lot of pitching for him, and I did feel like he was out of gas," Manuel said. "The more he stayed out there, you could see that he didn't have the stuff he had yesterday."
Jake Diekman , the fifth Phillies reliever of the game, gave up Lowrie's hit that stopped a string of 21 consecutive scoreless innings pitched by Philadelphia's bullpen.
Brandon Barnes pushed the lead to 6-4 with an RBI single.
Wesley Wright (1-2) got the last two outs of the eighth for the win. Wilton Lopez allowed a hit in a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.
For the Astros, it was a bright spot in this mostly dreadful season.
"There's a lot of satisfaction in that," Wright said of beating a team in postseason contention. "They come with a lot on the line and we have a chance to kind of derail that and finish the season on a positive note. So it's a good victory all the way around."
Kratz broke an 0-for-16 skid with an RBI double to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead in the second.
The Phillies scored three times in the third. Juan Pierre and Chase Utley hit consecutive one-out singles and Howard had a sacrifice fly. John Mayberry Jr. and Kevin Frandsen added RBI singles.
Justin Maxwell and Castro hit consecutive singles in the fourth before Dominguez's shot. The drive broke an 0-for-13 streak for Dominguez and was his third three-run homer in the last seven games.
Houston starter Lucas Harrell allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 2-3 innings to remain winless since Aug. 14.
Pinch-hitter Pete Orr singled with two outs in the sixth and Harrell issued consecutive walks to load the bases. Harrell was lifted after the second walk, and jawed at plate umpire Bill Miller on his way to the dugout and was ejected.
"The competitiveness of wanting to win kind of got a hold of me today and I let my emotions run a little bit," Harrell said, adding that he thought he pitched "horrible."
He was replaced by Xavier Cedeno , who retired Utley to end the threat.
Cloyd yielded five hits and three runs in three-plus innings.
Cloyd retired his first six batters before Jimmy Paredes singled to start the third. Jose Altuve hit a two-out single and Cloyd hit Fernando Martinez with a pitch to load the bases before getting Brett Wallace on a grounder.
It was the second tough start for Cloyd, who had his contract purchased from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Aug. 29. He allowed eight hits and four runs in four innings of his last start, but received a no-decision.
NOTES: Frandsen was back in the lineup after missing seven starts with a sore left ankle. ... Houston's Bud Norris was scratched from Friday's start because of a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand. The Astros have a six-man rotation, so each pitcher will simply be moved up a game. RHP Edgar Gonzalez will start on Friday against Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels . ... Astros reliever Mickey Storey was OK a day after being hit on the side of the face by a line drive which glanced off his hand and shoulder before striking him in the face. He said before the game that he's a bit sore but feels lucky that the injury wasn't worse.