Astros-Cubs Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated August 12, 2012
It's hard to believe the Houston Astros are playing better than anybody, but that may be the case in comparison to their next opponent. The Chicago Cubs have dropped 11 of 12 as they start a three-game set Monday night against the Astros, who arrive in Wrigley Field after capturing a series for the first time since June. Houston (38-78) has dropped 24 of 26 on the road, where it is 11-46. The Astros, however, took two of three at home from Milwaukee over the weekend to win a series for the first time since June 22-24 over Cleveland. "This is a positive change, winning two of three,'' shortstop Marwin Gonzalez said. "We hope it's an awakening for the team and that we continue to see positive results." Chicago (44-69), meanwhile, has lost three straight after Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Cincinnati. The Cubs have been outscored 60-31 during this 12-game stretch that began close to the trade deadline. This is the third series between these clubs, which traded three-game sweeps at home in the first two. Only 33 runs have been scored in the six games - hardly surprising since Chicago has scored a major league-low 414 runs, and Houston 437 for baseball's third-worst total. Jeff Samardzija (7-10, 4.21 ERA) is well aware of the Cubs' struggles at the plate. His run support average of 3.19 is the second-lowest mark in the majors, and Chicago has scored two or fewer runs for him in 11 of his last 12 outings. Samardzija got no support as he gave up one run over seven innings Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat at San Diego. The right-hander's lone career start against Houston was a 5-1 road loss May 23 when he yielded two runs over six innings. Armando Galarraga (0-2, 4.70) will make his fourth start for the Astros. It's also the fourth of his career against the Cubs, against whom he is 2-1 with a 4.95 ERA. Galarraga has issued 13 walks over 10 1-3 innings in dropping consecutive starts, walking six and allowing three runs over five-plus innings Wednesday in a 4-3 loss to Washington. "I need to be honest with myself," he said. "Six walks after seven walks. There's not an excuse for that." Chicago's Alfonso Soriano is 5 for 9 with three homers off the right-hander. Galarraga will likely have a new batterymate since the Astros have activated catcher Jason Castro off the disabled list. Castro, out since July 7 with a knee injury, went 3 for 3 and played nine innings behind the plate in a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday night. "He's swung the bat so well on his rehab, we're getting him back at a good time - it appears, anyway," manager Brad Mills told the Astros' official website. "There's no doubt a guy with his tools and his ability, to get him back is going to be nice."
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