The Astros, Hanging On Despite Themselves

The Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thursday and Friday to get their record to 46-44. For a short time, the Astros were in a three-way tie for second place in the NL Central. And with the first-place St. Louis Cardinals coming in for three games starting tonight, there was a chance the Astros were going to be playing for a shot at first place.

Then Mike Hampton couldn't keep the Dodgers close on Saturday night, and the Astros bullpen blew the game on Sunday, and just like that Astros are back at .500, sitting in fourth place, and are not playing for first place against the St. Louis Cardinals starting tonight. As it stands, it's going to be up Brian Moehler -- that's right, Brian Moehler -- to keep the Astros close to St. Louis while keeping the onrushing Cincinnati Reds from getting back into the action.

The Astros are coming into this series with the Cardinals as an injured team. Lance Berkman is injured; he was unable to play the last three games of the Dodgers series, and it's possible that today he will be getting medical tests on a strained left calf. Darin Erstad, Berkman's backup at first, is possibly on his way to the disabled list because of a hamstring problem  that has caused him to miss time and which has caused third-string catcher Chris Coste to start at first base for most of the weekend. And Chris Sampson, who was the team's most consistent relief pitcher for the first half of the season fell victim to the Cecil Cooper-relief-pitcher-abuse-system and is currently on the disabled list.   

Recently, when Oswalt and Rodriguez pitch, the Astros look to be unbeatable. Unfortunately, those two can't pitch in every game. But when anybody else pitches, the team just appears to find a way to lose, and things won't get any better if Berkman has to go on the disabled list. Yet somehow the Astros are still finding some way to stay in contention. So let's see what happens after these three games with the Cardinals.

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