Astros-Pirates Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off their best offensive

output since providing starter Pat Maholm with solid run support

more than a month ago.

Maholm surely would welcome a similar performance Monday when

Pittsburgh tries to move three games over .500 for the first time

in 12 years against the visiting Houston Astros.

The Pirates (43-41) routed Washington 10-2 on Sunday, matching a

season high for runs scored set May 20 and equaled May 28. Maholm

(4-9, 3.17 ERA) pitched his only shutout this season in the second

occurrence, beating the Chicago Cubs.

The left-hander, though, hasn’t received much offense in his

other outings. Pittsburgh has scored three or fewer runs for Maholm

in 14 of his 17 starts. His 3.08 run support average is near the

bottom of the NL while his ERA ranks in the top 20.

Maholm is 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA in his last seven starts, allowing

two or fewer runs in five of them. He gave up two runs in seven

innings Wednesday in a 2-1 loss against Toronto.

”He’s been doing that all year and we haven’t had a chance to

give him any run support,” Lyle Overbay said after Maholm’s solid

outing against the Blue Jays. “He’s definitely deserving of a way

better record and fate than what he’s got.”

Overbay went 3 for 4 with three RBIs on Sunday, while Garrett

Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker added two RBIs each.

McCutchen had his second straight three-hit game and is 10 for

20 over his last five.

”It’s nice for the bats to show up and have a feel-good day on

offense,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don’t know how many more

of these we’ll get, but when we get ’em we’ll take ’em.”

Pittsburgh is 0-8 this season when having a chance to move three

games over the .500 mark for the first time since it was 40-37 on

July 1, 1999. If the Pirates are to finally get over the hump,

they’ll have to overcome Houston starter Brett Myers (3-7, 4.60),

who has had success against Pittsburgh in recent outings.

Myers is 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in his last five starts against the

Pirates, allowing two runs or less in four of those outings.

The right-hander is yet to lose on the road, going 2-0 with a

2.14 ERA in three starts. However, Myers lost his latest outing

after allowing three runs in seven innings Wednesday in a 3-2

defeat against Texas.

That loss is part of a miserable stretch for the major

league-worst Astros (29-56) in which they’ve lost 11 of 13. Houston

fell 2-1 to Boston on Sunday to cap a three-game sweep.

Hunter Pence, the team’s lone All-Star, went 1 for 4 to extend

his hitting streak to eight games. He’s hit safely in 33 of his

last 36 games overall and batting a team-high .322.

Despite the low production Sunday, offense hasn’t been the issue

during most of the Astros’ slump. They scored 16 runs in their

previous three games and at least 11 hits in five of their last

seven games.

However, the pitching staff has a 5.35 combined ERA with four

blown saves over the last 13 games.

The Pirates have won five of six meetings, with their lone

All-Star Joel Hanrahan earning three saves.