Series preview: Wainwright, Miller to face reeling Astros

ST. LOUIS — When the Cardinals went to Houston two weeks ago, the lowly Astros were on somewhat of a roll. They had won seven of 11 games and owned a 19-18 record over the previous five-plus weeks.  

The Astros aren’t rolling anymore. They have lost eight of 10 since splitting a two-game set with the Cardinals and have equaled their season low point by falling 25 games under .500. If they still resided in the NL Central instead of the AL West, they would trail the first-place Cardinals by 22 games.

With the Cardinals set to send out their top two starters, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller, they are in prime position to take advantage of the Astros’ struggles.

Houston is hitting just .199 over their past 10 games, and virtually every regular is hitting under .200 during the stretch, including third baseman Matt Dominguez (3 for 30), outfielder Brandon Barnes (6-32), first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter (5-26), second baseman Jose Altuve (7-37), first baseman Carlos Pena (2-17) and utilityman Jake Elmore (4-24).

Former Cardinals farmhand Brett Wallace has been the Astros’ most productive hitter over their past 10 games with three homers, six RBIs and a .276/.364/.690 line. Wallace had spent two months in the minors before he was called up when the Cardinals visited Houston.

The Astros’ lone All-Star, catcher Jason Castro, is hitting .276 with 12 homers for the season. The club’s other All-Star candidate, Cardinals nemesis Bud Norris, will start Tuesday night. The Cardinals seemed to have solved their problems against Norris with three wins against him last year, but he finished the season by shutting out them out for 7 1/3 innings in a 2-0 victory.
 
After a 3-5 interleague road trip, the Cardinals returned home to sweep the Marlins and move back into first place, half a game ahead of the Pirates. St. Louis is in the middle of a stretch of six series against sub-.500 teams.

Cardinals MVP candidate Yadier Molina, who has missed the past two games with right knee inflammation, could return as soon as Tuesday night. If Molina is in the lineup against the Astros, it would seem to be a good indicator that his knee is sound. Otherwise, the club would figure to rest him against the last-place Astros.

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