Phillies-Astros Preview

Cole Hamels is trying to prove he belongs among the best
pitchers in the NL, and his September record may reinforce his
case.

His recent record against the Houston Astros doesn’t.

Hamels looks to build on another complete game when the
Philadelphia Phillies try to avoid their longest slide in over
three months Tuesday night against the Astros.

Hamels (14-7, 2.60 ERA) needs one victory to match his career
high from 2007, and the left-hander appears to be on his way to
doing so since he leads the NL with 11 wins in September since
2008.

He’s 14-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 26 starts in September.

“Just staying in that top echelon of guys,” Hamels said of his
goals for this season. “I want to be in that sort of category.
That’s what I strive for every year.”

Hamels’ latest performance fortified his efforts to be among the
elite, as he set a career high with his third complete game by
tossing a four-hitter in a 7-2 win at Milwaukee on Thursday.

Hamels, though, has struggled over his last four starts against
the Astros (50-97), going 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA. Prior to that
stretch, he was 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA in his first four meetings.

The Phillies (94-50), closing in on a fifth straight NL East
title, could use another strong effort from Hamels after losing the
opener of this three-game set 5-1 on Monday. They fell 3-2 to the
Brewers on Sunday.

A loss Tuesday would put Philadelphia on its longest slide since
a season-high four-game skid May 31-June 4.

Hunter Pence may have a role in preventing that from happening
while sending Houston to its worst season in franchise history
after spending four-plus seasons there.

He leads the Phillies with a .325 average since being acquired
from the Astros on July 29, and he’s batting .406 in his past eight
games.

Pence received a warm ovation from the Minute Maid Park crowd
Monday, as he collected two hits in his first game there since
being dealt.

“I didn’t expect it to feel as weird as it did,” Pence said. “It
was strange. The support they gave me was incredible. I’m not sure
I was expecting that, but it was humbling. It was familiar but
unfamiliar at the same time.”

This Astros team is trying to delay taking sole ownership of the
most losses in franchise history, which will come with the next
defeat.

Carlos Lee is doing his part, batting .395 with five homers and
15 RBIs in his last 21 games while reaching base safely in all of
them and managing a hit in 20. He connected for a two-run shot and
had two hits Monday.

Lee has two homers and six RBIs in his last three games versus
Philadelphia and five hits – two homers – in 20 at-bats off
Hamels.

J.A. Happ (5-15, 5.77) takes the mound opposite his former
teammate, as he tries to avoid becoming the first Astro since Chris
Holt and Jose Lima in 2000 to lose 16 games.

Happ’s most recent home start Aug. 31 was one of his best of the
season, as he yielded three hits in seven innings in a 2-0 win over
Pittsburgh. He wasn’t as sharp on the road against the Pirates a
week later, giving up four runs and two homers in five innings
while not getting a decision in a 5-4 loss.

Happ hasn’t found much success against Pence, who is 3 for 6
against him.