Although the Houston Astros nearly pulled off a stunning sweep over baseball's best team, building on that series could be difficult.
Owners of the majors' worst road record, the Astros open their final trip of the season Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where they were swept in their last visit.Houston (51-98) arrives in Chicago after taking two of three from NL East-leading Philadelphia. The Astros fell just short of becoming the first team this year to sweep the playoff-bound Phillies, dropping Wednesday's finale 1-0."We played well, and we know this is a learning process for us," said Houston's Bud Norris, who was outdueled by Roy Halladay. "I hope these guys can learn from this, build on it, and we can move forward."That might not be so easy, however.The Astros, 23-52 on the road, need to win once on this six-game trip to avoid matching the worst road record in club history, set by the 1967 team. They've lost 27 of their last 34 away from Houston, which includes being outscored 14-7 in getting swept at Wrigley from July 22-24.A sluggish offense is among the biggest reasons for the team's road woes. The Astros have hit three homers in their last nine away from Houston, and in 16 road games since Aug. 12, the team is averaging baseball's second-fewest road runs at 3.13.Rookie left fielder J.D. Martinez, who finished the series against Philadelphia 5 for 12 with two doubles, is batting .378 with 11 RBIs in his last 11 home games, but hitting .094 with one RBI in his last eight on the road.Having to face Matt Garza (8-10, 3.54 ERA) in the opener doesn't seem like it will help Martinez, or any of his teammates, get on track offensively.Garza owns one of the NL's top home ERAs at 2.64, and in his only outing of the year against Houston on July 24, he gave up two runs and five hits while striking out nine in seven innings of a 5-4, 10-inning victory.The right-hander allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings of Sunday's 10-6, 11-inning win over the New York Mets. Since Aug. 14, the Cubs are 5-1 in Garza's starts, but 8-16 when anybody else takes the ball.Chicago (65-85) returns home after losing to Cincinnati 8-6 in 11 innings on Thursday to drop the final three contests of a four-game series."Just what we needed -- a 4 1/2-hour (actually 4:01) game with a day game (Friday)," manager Mike Quade said.Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer Thursday, and has three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last seven games, but is batting .167 with five RBIs against Houston this year.Geovany Soto could lead Chicago's offense in the opener. The catcher is 10 for 18 with two homers and six RBIs in his last four games against the Astros, and is batting .421 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez (11-10, 3.51).Rodriguez permitted three runs and seven hits in six innings of Saturday's 9-3 win over Washington. The left-hander is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts after going 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA in his previous six.Rodriguez, the only Astros starter with a winning record, has a 5.25 ERA in losing his two starts against the Cubs this year.