The Houston Astros have finally snapped their longest losing streak since the All-Star break, but it may be too late for them to make a playoff push.
After ending a five-game skid, the Astros look to build some momentum at the plate when they play the middle game of their series with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night.Houston (81-72) beat Pittsburgh 5-1 on Friday to move within 4 1/2 games of Philadelphia for the NL wild card with only nine contests remaining.With a productive game at the plate, the Astros were able to win for the first time since Sept. 11, when they beat the Pirates 6-0 to complete a four-game home sweep. During its losing streak, Houston managed a total of five runs and 16 hits and was no-hit by Chicago Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano."It's been a long week," said Astros manager Cecil Cooper, whose team still has the NL's best record since the All-Star break (37-21). "It's been a long time since we've had a win."Hunter Pence had two hits and three RBIs to spark the Astros' lineup. The second-year right fielder went 2-for-16 during Houston's slide.Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, meanwhile, went 0-for-1 with three walks and is in a career-worst 0-for-23 slump. The last time he had a hit was on Sept. 9 versus the Pirates (64-90), when he went 3-for-4 in a 9-3 win.Brian Moehler (11-7, 4.33 ERA), who is set to take the mound for Houston, may need a breakout game from Berkman to earn a win. Moehler has posted a 6.91 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this season, but has gotten an average of 10.6 runs to work with while going 2-0.The right-hander is 5-4 with a 5.14 ERA in 10 starts and three relief appearances all-time against Pittsburgh.Moehler is 2-3 with a 6.33 ERA in his last five outings overall. He gave up five runs and six hits in five innings as Houston lost 6-1 to the Cubs on Monday.The Pirates will counter with Jimmy Barthmaier (0-1, 27.00), who is taking Tom Gorzelanny's spot in the rotation. Gorzelanny will miss the rest of the season with an injured left middle finger.Barthmaier started in his major league debut for the Pirates on June 27 against Tampa Bay, and allowed seven runs in 2 1-3 innings in a 10-5 loss. The 24-year-old right-hander went 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 16 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis.Pittsburgh, which has lost four of five games, has reached 90 losses for the fourth straight year, and is wrapping up its 16th straight season below .500."It's frustrating," Pirates first-year manager John Russell said. "I'm not going to talk about the years before because there's not much we can do about them. Wins and losses are what we have to start concentrating on."