Oswalt Takes Hill
There weren't many positives to take from Roy Oswalt's first three starts in 2008, just as there weren't many good things to say about the first three weeks of the Houston Astros' season.
The Astros are hoping Oswalt's latest start is a sign both of their fortunes are about to change.
Oswalt will look to build off his first impressive outing of the season on Monday, and Houston will try to win back-to-back games for just the second time when it opens a two-game set with the visiting San Diego Padres.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Houston -140 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Houston -140 (View MLB Bet Percentages). Bet this game.
The Astros (7-12) are in last place in the NL Central, and the inconsistency of their ace pitcher has been a big reason why. Oswalt (1-3, 6.65 ERA), a two-time 20-game winner, lost his first three starts of 2008, allowing 16 earned runs in 16 innings.
But the three-time All-Star began to look like his old self in his latest outing. Oswalt allowed just one run in seven innings on Thursday at Philadelphia, and Houston won 2-1.
"He was vintage Roy," manager Cecil Cooper said. "He kept the ball down, had a nice breaking ball and his fastball was crisp. He pitched real well."
Oswalt's struggles began on opening day in San Diego, when he lasted just 5 1-3 innings, giving up three runs on 11 hits in a 4-0 loss to the Padres (9-10).
He's typically been excellent in his career when facing San Diego, however. Oswalt is 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA lifetime against the Padres, and has allowed only two home runs in 68 2-3 innings.
Oswalt will be looking to help Houston win consecutive games following its come-from-behind, 6-4 win over Colorado on Sunday that salvaged the finale of the three-game series.
Second baseman Kaz Matsui - who had spent the first 16 games of the season on the disabled list - had two hits, including a two-run single in the Astros' three-run eighth.
"Today was the first day we really came to the party and played late," Cooper told the team's official Web site. "Finally we got the big, big two-out hit today. We need to wake up and start hitting like that on a regular basis."
San Diego had lost four straight - scoring only six runs in the process - before getting its bats untracked for a season-high nine runs on Sunday in a 9-4 win at Arizona.
The Padres entered play Sunday with a .238 average, and only three teams, including the Astros (.228), had a lower average entering the day. But left fielder Justin Huber had two of San Diego's 10 hits, including his first career home run, which came off future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.
"We felt today was a good day to go with as much right-handed hitting as possible," manager Bud Black said of inserting the rarely used Huber into the lineup. "That's what Justin is here for, to get some at-bats off left-handed pitching."
Justin Germano (0-1, 1.35) will start for the Padres on Monday, and he'll be looking for better luck than he's had in his first three starts. He's allowed only three total runs, but hasn't gotten a win because San Diego has scored an average of 1.35 runs for him - the second-worst run support in baseball.
Germano has faced Houston only once, allowing three runs in six innings in a 3-2 loss on Aug. 18.
Astros first baseman Lance Berkman doesn't have a hit in two career at-bats against Germano, but he's had some big hits against San Diego lately. Berkman is 9-for-31 (.290) in his last eight games against the Padres with five home runs.