The Houston Astros have recorded their share of victories this season over contending clubs, but continue to be an enigmatic bunch as they play the second of a three-game series versus the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.
Houston, which now competes as a member of the American League, has not won back-to-back games since the middle of June when it ran together a four-game win streak, and that will not change tonight since the Astros lost the opener of a three-game set yesterday by a score of 10-7.
Already a staggering 22 1/2 games out of contention in the AL West, 29 games under .500, the Astros have bowed in three straight and six of the last seven outings, even with Brandon Barnes hitting for the cycle on Friday.
Barnes, who became the first Astros player to hit for the cycle since Luke Scott on July 28, 2006, and the seventh man in franchise history, finished with five hits, a pair of RBI and three runs scored in the disappointing outcome.
"That there's a great feat," said Astros manager Bo Porter of the cycle. "It's obviously something that doesn't happen in our game every day. To accomplish it in a big league game is pretty impressive and it couldn't happen to a better guy."
Like Barnes, Brett Wallace also hit his fifth home run of the season for Houston, knocking in three runs overall, but that still wasn't enough to keep pace with Seattle. Offsetting a couple of strikeouts, Justin Maxwell tallied two hits and a walk as he scored three times in the losing effort.
Bud Norris was saddled with the loss, giving up six runs on six hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings of action.
The winning pitcher turned out to be Joe Saunders, who scattered nine hits and three walks, leading to three runs, while fanning six over 5 1/3 innings for the visitors. One of four relievers for Seattle, Tom Wilhelmsen came on in the eighth to register his 20th save of the campaign.
Helping to extend Seattle's run of consecutive games with a home run to a club-record 23 in a row, Brad Miller recorded the first two long balls of his career as he finished with five RBI overall for the visitors. Justin Smoak added his ninth home run of the campaign and Kyle Seager his 16th as the Mariners now stand just four game shy of tying the all-time record for consecutive games with a home run set by Texas back in 2002.
Seeking to register wins in back-to-back starts for the first time since the middle of May, Hisashi Iwakuma is preparing to take the ball for the Mariners in tonight's battle. The right-hander, who was a perfect 4-0 in May in fact, last pitched on Sunday against the Angels at home, with the hosts coming up with a 4-3 triumph.
In that outing Iwakuma gave up three runs on seven hits and a walk, striking out seven over as many innings, as he won for the first time in over a month.
Iwakuma, who came up a winner against Houston back on June 10 by limiting the Astros to just one run on four hits, while fanning eight, over the course of seven innings, now has a record of 1-1 against the club during his two-year career.
Originally, Jordan Lyles had been scheduled to pitch for the Astros on Saturday, but instead the team will be turning to Erik Bedard in hopes that he can reverse their fortunes somewhat. The left-hander, a member of the Seattle staff between 2008-2011, has not had a winning season since 2009 when he posted five wins, against three defeats for the Mariners.
Bedard is currently 3-6 with a 4.61 ERA following his third straight setback last weekend versus Tampa Bay on the road. The Canadian gave up just three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits and a couple of walks through five innings against the Rays. The hurler was able to strike out six batters in the outing, but still he has displayed some troubling control problems with 46 bases-on- balls in only 91 2/3 innings this season.
Bedard was on the right side of a 16-9 onslaught versus Seattle back in early April, permitting just one hit in four innings of action, yet he failed to factor into the decision. For his career, he is 1-3 with a 4.78 ERA in six matchups with his former club.
With the win on Friday, Seattle has now locked the season series with the Astros at five games apiece, but still the Mariners are sitting fourth in the AL West standings 12 games out of contention and eight games below .500 even with four straight wins.