Pirates-Astros Preview

While it hasn’t helped them too much in the NL Central race, a

series with the woeful Houston Astros has helped put the Pittsburgh

Pirates on the brink of matching their longest win streak of the

season.

The Pirates will try to earn that fifth straight win, record

their first four-game sweep in Houston in nearly three decades and

extend the Astros’ franchise-worst skid to 13 on Sunday

afternoon.

Pittsburgh (58-42) hasn’t made much of a dent in its division

deficit largely because NL Central-leading Cincinnati has reeled

off nine consecutive victories. The Pirates still trail the Reds by

two games after rallying for a 4-3 win over the MLB-worst Astros

(34-68) on Saturday night.

James McDonald (10-4, 3.15 ERA) will try to deliver Pittsburgh’s

first four-game sweep in Houston since April 7-10, 1983, and its

second five-game win streak this season. The Pirates had their

other such run from July 17-22 before suffering back-to-back losses

to Chicago.

McDonald played a large part in the latter of those defeats

Tuesday by allowing five runs over six innings. He’s 1-1 with an

8.62 ERA over his last three starts.

“I had pretty decent command. They just hit the ball when they

needed to,” McDonald told the team’s website. “This is a loss I can

live with. I competed, went out there and gave everything I had. I

had good stuff. They got me today.”

The right-hander has a 1.59 ERA over his past four matchups with

Houston, including two this season, but has a 2-2 record in those

games with zero runs of support in each of the two losses. He was

on the wrong end of a 1-0 result May 11 in Pittsburgh but earned

the win in an 11-2 rout July 2 at PNC Park.

This time, he’ll face a team that has only two wins over its

last 27 games, has dropped seven in a row at home and nine straight

in the series. The Astros have been outscored 152-73 during that

2-25 stretch.

“We can sit here and probably try to pick things apart as best

we can on all kinds of issues,” Astros manager Brad Mills said.

“But we’ve been facing some good pitchers in tough situations.”

Lucas Harrell (7-7, 4.07) will try to stop his team’s downward

spiral with another top-notch outing. The right-hander has allowed

one run in each of his last three starts but has been given a

combined two runs of support.

The Astros led 2-1 when Harrell exited after the seventh inning

of Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati but reliever Francisco Cordero

gave up three runs in the final frame of a 4-2 defeat.

“I am disappointed because he should have gotten a ‘W,'” Cordero

told the team’s website. “(Harrell) pitched too good of a game to

go home with a no-decision.”

Harrell tied a career high with nine strikeouts during his only

start against Pittsburgh on July 3 but also gave up five runs over

five innings and did not get a decision in an 8-7 road loss.

He hasn’t given up more than one run in any of his five other

outings since June 17.