Series preview: Astros are playing better than you think

Cardinals face an Astros team playing almost as well as they have for the last six weeks

ST. LOUIS -- The Astros have struck out more than any team in the majors. They've made the most errors and their bullpen has the highest ERA. They own the worst run differential in the majors and settled into last place in the AL West weeks ago.

And guess what? The Astros are doing better than expected.

With only a handful of proven big leaguers on the roster and the organization still early in massive rebuild, the Astros entered 2013 with the look of a team destined for a third consecutive season of 105-plus losses. Losing 30 of their first 40 games did little to dispel the notion.   

But since the middle of May, the Astros have played, well, pretty darn well. Their 19-18 record since May 15 is tied for 11th in the majors and just 2.5 games worse than the Cardinals during that stretch.

The Astros enter their first interleague meeting against their former division rival on a better roll than the Cardinals. Houston has won six of its last 10, including a 5-2 home stand last week. The Cardinals, after being swept by Texas, have dropped seven of their past 12.

For the Astros, starting pitching has made the difference. Their starters own the best rotation ERA (3.14) in the American League since May 15. Both starters who will face the Cardinals in the two-game series have done their part.

Lucas Harrell has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his past five starts.
The 28-year-old right-hander from Springfield, Mo., owns a 2-3 record and 5.46 ERA in six career starts against St. Louis. Harrell starts tonight.

Wednesday starter Erik Bedard has given up more than two runs only once in his past nine outings. Bedard is 1-3 with a 5.91 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals. For the Pirates in 2012, Bedard failed to last five innings in either of his two starts against the Cardinals.

After facing Bud Norris five times in 2012, the Cardinals will not see their onetime nemesis in Houston. They could, however, when the Astros visit St. Louis in two weeks. The Cardinals aren't likely to see a couple of their former first-round draft picks who landed in Houston. Brett Wallace was sent to Class AAA after striking out in 17 of his first 24 at-bats this season. Tyler Greene is in Class AAA with the White Sox after being cut by the Astros in spring training.

For the Cardinals, the upcoming eight-game interleague stretch is expected to give Matt Adams his first stretch of extended playing time this season. When he isn't serving as the DH, he figures to play first as Mike Matheny gives regulars such as Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday a day to DH.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at

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