Breakout right-hander James McDonald can continue a stellar first half of 2012 tonight when the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Houston Astros in game one of a four-game set at PNC Park.

The 27-year-old Californian, who won a career-high nine games in 31 starts for the Pirates in 2011, moved within two wins of the personal-best number when he tossed 5 2/3 innings in an 11-7 defeat of Philadelphia on June 27.

The win was his second in a row and fifth in six decisions since mid-May, when he improved to 3-2 on the season with a 5-3 triumph at Washington on May 17.

Defeats of Cincinnati and Milwaukee followed and the stretch was only interrupted by a tough-luck 2-0 loss at Cleveland on June 15, in which McDonald allowed only a run on three hits in six innings.

He's been particularly effective at home, going 3-1 in eight starts while posting a stingy 1.63 earned run average in 55 1/3 innings.

The only loss in Pittsburgh was against the Astros, who beat him, 1-0, after he allowed a run on four hits with eight strikeouts in eight innings.

Tonight, he'll be opposed by 21-year-old Houston righty Jordan Lyles, who makes the 10th start of his second big-league season.

The North Carolina native was 2-8 in 20 appearances as a rookie last year, posting a 5.36 ERA across 94 innings - including a 5-4 loss against the Pirates in Houston on June 16.

It's his lone career meeting with Pittsburgh.

Lyles was a 5-3 winner over San Diego in his last start on June 26, but is 0-2 in five road starts so far this season.

On Sunday in Chicago, Travis Wood pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and the Cubs finished off a three-game sweep, beating the Astros by a 3-0 count at Wrigley Field.

Wandy Rodriguez (6-6) was a hard-luck loser for the Astros, allowing three runs on five hits in seven innings. He struck out three and walked just one but Houston dropped its fourth straight overall.

J.D. Martinez and Carlos Lee were the only Astros to reach second base. Martinez hit a leadoff double to start the fifth, but he was stranded after Matt Downs, Brian Bogusevic and Brian Bixler failed to score him. Lee failed to score after delivering a two-out double in the ninth.

In St. Louis, Allen Craig hit a two-run homer and Yadier Molina added a solo shot as the Cardinals edged the Pirates, 5-4, to avoid a three-game series sweep.

Erik Bedard (4-9) gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings to take the loss for Pittsburgh, which saw its four-game win streak come to an end.

Michael McKenry had a three-run home run in a losing effort.

The Pirates won two of three from the Astros in a May series at PNC Park and 11 of 18 games between the teams last season. Houston last won the season series in 2010, taking 11 of 15 games.