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.