Astros peaking in pursuit of Wild Card

Astros peaking in pursuit of Wild Card

HOUSTON -- This is getting ridiculous.

With their win over Pittsburgh on Monday night, the Astros improved to 33-16 since the All-Star break, the best record in baseball during that span. They have won 11 of their past 12 games. In the past 10 days, they have shaved 6 1/2 games off their deficit in the National League Central Division race and 4 1/2 games off their Wild Card deficit.

The Astros are in fourth place in the latter race, five games behind Milwaukee. With only 18 games remaining, even making up that difference would take some kind of miracle.

Then again, there are precedents.

"Colorado did it last year," Astros infielder Geoff Blum said. "Why can't we?"

For one, they'd have to pass three teams to get to the Wild Card lead, and they don't face any of them the rest of the way. And while it's true the Astros are only two games out of second place in the Wild Card standings, two of the teams they are chasing -- the Brewers and Phillies -- play each other in a four-game series this week.

"We've still got to go and win every game, it doesn't matter who you play," Astros ace Roy Oswalt said. "We're not really playing the Cubs for their spot, we're playing for a Wild Card spot and we've kind of got to win every game. We might have started too late, but at least we're making it interesting."

Pitching matchup
HOU: LHP Randy Wolf (9-11, 4.47 ERA)
Wolf had his best Astros outing in his last start at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, throwing his 12th career complete game and seventh shutout in a 3-0 Houston win. Wolf has allowed one run over his past two outings, spanning 15 innings. The left-hander has not faced the Pirates this year. In his career, he's 5-1 with a 3.61 ERA vs. the Bucs over eight starts.

PIT: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (1-1, 6.26 ERA)
In his first Major League start, Ohlendorf didn't factor in the decision despite putting up a respectable performance. He allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits in six innings. Though his velocity didn't reach the high 90s as anticipated, he was steadily throwing in the mid-90s range and attacked the zone with consistency. You can expect to see that velocity return before the season ends. Ohlendorf has made two career relief appearances against Houston while with the Yankees. In two innings, the righty allowed two hits, one walk and one run. He struck out one.

Tidbits
Astros rookie Mark Saccomanno became the fourth player in franchise history to homer in his first Major League at-bat. The last time it happened was Sept. 4, 2006, when Charlton Jimerson pulled it off against Philadelphia's Cole Hamels. Saccomanno is one of 24 players to hit the first pitch of their career for a home run. Teammate Kazuo Matsui also did it, for the Mets in 2004. ... Carlos Lee, on the disabled list with a fractured left finger, isn't expected back before the regular season ends. "I'll put it this way," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said, "we're going to be playing in October, and I plan on having him." ... The Astros are 10 games above .500 for the first time this season. ... Hunter Pence went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 10 consecutive games. ... Miguel Tejada has hit safely in nine straight games. ... Jose Valverde's save on Monday night increased his NL-leading total to 41. Valverde has converted 14 consecutive save opportunities, the longest such streak since Chad Cordero converted 15 in a row for the Nationals from June 5-July 2, 2005. ... Houston's team ERA in eight games since Aug. 31 is 2.34.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Astros (Brian Moehler, 10-6, 4.22) vs. Pirates (Tom Gorzelanny, 6-9, 6.64), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 14-9, 3.72) vs. Pirates (Zach Duke, 5-13, 4.87), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Friday: Astros (TBD) vs. Cubs (Jason Marquis, 10-8, 4.36), 7:05 p.m. CT

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.