Astros-Padres Preview

The San Diego Padres are in last place in the NL West, but

they’re just seven games out of first – not bad for a team with the

league’s worst home record.

They’re hoping that’s a title they won’t have much longer.

Fresh off their first set of consecutive victories at Petco

Park, the Padres look to win a series at home for just the second

time Sunday in the finale of a four-game set with the Houston

Astros.

San Diego (26-33) finished with identical 45-36 home and road

records in 2010 while narrowly missing the postseason, and it has

again been strong away from Petco Park in 2011.

That 15-12 road record hasn’t meant much, though. The Padres

lost 21 of their first 30 at home after falling 7-4 to the Astros

on Thursday in the opener of a season-high 11-game homestand.

After the past two games, San Diego seems intent on turning

around those woes. Dustin Moseley pitched seven strong innings in

Friday’s 3-1 victory, then Aaron Harang threw 6 2-3 effective

innings Saturday in a 6-3 win.

“There’s no doubt, it’s been well-chronicled that our record

isn’t where we need it to be at home and we’re going to try to do

everything we can to catch up in that regard,” manager Bud Black

said.

San Diego still has a lot of work to do to overcome the majors’

least effective offense, but it will have a better chance if Mat

Latos (3-6, 3.97 ERA) can continue his personal turnaround. After

beginning the season 0-5 with a 4.86 ERA and extending his losing

streak since September to 10, Latos went 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his

last four starts in May.

The right-hander held Atlanta to two runs and five hits over six

innings Tuesday in a 5-4 victory, but Black still thinks Latos can

do better.

“He was in position to have some short innings but couldn’t put

guys away,” Black said. “I thought the hard slider was his good

pitch later in the game tonight, the one he throws with velocity.

When he has good depth to it, they swing over the top and miss

it.”

Facing the Astros (23-36) could help, but he struggled in

Houston last month. Latos, who pitched eight shutout innings twice

in victories over the Astros last season, gave up five runs over 6

1-3 innings in a 5-3 loss at Minute Maid Park on April 16.

Latos might need to be at his best against Jordan Lyles (0-0,

2.57), who did nothing to diminish his status as Houston’s top

pitching prospect in his major league debut despite costing himself

a decision with his defense. Lyles’ throwing error with a 1-0 lead

in the eighth inning Tuesday against the Cubs led to a pair of

runs, though the Astros later rallied to win 7-3.

“He was throwing everything for strikes, keeping guys

off-balance, throwing exactly how we saw him throw in spring

training,” manager Brad Mills said of the 20-year-old Lyles, the

majors’ youngest active player. “He lived up to every expectation

of every Astros fan, the management, the organization …

everything.”

One player Lyles will want to pitch carefully is Ryan Ludwick.

San Diego’s left fielder, who was hitting .181 on May 10, is

batting .373 with four homers and 22 RBIs in his last 22 games.

Ludwick is batting .410 in his last 17 contests against

Houston.