Houston Astros (73-66) at San Diego Padres (57-82)

In the NL Central, it is a three horse race. The Astros cannot afford to lose another series to the Padres at the risk of losing ground to their stable mates. The Padres have won 5 consecutive series, including a series last weekend against these same Astros in the Juice Box, AKA Minute Maid Park.

Game One

RHP Adam Eaton (8-9, 4.05) and RHP Jared Fernandez (2-3, 4.50)

Eaton has had two consecutive strong outings and he looks to make it three here. A win would take his overall record to .500 and he has an opportunity to get his ERA back under 4. Eaton is still throwing hard in the 94-96 range and in combination with his knee-buckling bender; he makes it very tough on opponents. He has really cut down on his HRs allowed. Eaton has given up only 15 in 151 IP. His previous best was 14 in 135 IP.

Jared Fernandez pitched well his last time out; unfortunately it was against the Padres. Fortunately, seeing him pitch so recently may help the Padres' hitters see the error of their ways. He throws this soft knuckler, almost a knuckle-curve and the guys were lunging at it. They have to wait for the ball to get to them and they need to make him throw strikes.

Game Two

RHP Kevin Jarvis (4-7, 5.75) and LHP Ron Villone (6-3, 3.28)

What you need to know about Jarvis right now is that he has lost 5 straight decisions. In a Jekyll and Hyde type season, Jarvis probably wishes he could return to July when he won all 4 of his starts and had a 2.20 ERA. Contrast that with August, where he had a 0-5 record with an 8.63 ERA. Right now, Jarvis lacks command and if you do not have overpowering stuff, you have to hit your spots. Jarvis should especially avoid his slider because he has been hanging it.

Villone pitched well against the Padres his last time out. He really had worked the guys over with good heater and his devastating curve. He got a tough loss as his manager hung him out to dry. Somebody should tell Jimy Williams that when you are in pennant race that leaving your starter out there when he does not have anything left is not the most prudent thing to do.

Game Three

RHP Jake Peavy (10-10, 4.25) and RHP Wade Miller (12-11, 4.10)

Peavy allowed only 1 hit and K'd 10 his last time out, unfortunately the one hit was a home run. It looked as though that Peavy was going to get hung with a tough loss until Jimy Williams got him off the hook with his aforementioned gaffe. To make matters worse, Peavy was extremely nauseous to the point he nearly lost his lunch on the mound. If everyone could perform that well while sick, people would welcome illness. Good news, Jake reports that his wife Katie is feeling much better.

In the absence of Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller is the definitive staff ace. However, with the absence of Carlos Hernandez and with Oswalt spending time on the DL, Miller appeared to put more pressure on himself to perform. It would seem that in second half that he remembered that he can only take the ball once every 5 days. Since the break, Miller is 6-2 with a 2.69 ERA. He has good 4-seamer in the 94-96 mph range, 2-seamer, slider, curve, change up, and occasional splitter. He has a lot of tools in the box to keep batters off balance. Only Nevin (4 for 9, 2 HR, 3 RBI) has good career line against Miller.

Hitters to Watch

All of them! It may seem like a cop out, but after watching this team A.G. (After Giles) they are playing with a confidence and passion that you would not typically expect in September from a team 25 games below .500.

Jeff Bagwell is quietly having a Hall of Fame career and any time you can see a future HOFer play, get out to the ball park. Enough said.

Other Notes

Ryan Klesko will be out for the rest of the season with shoulder surgery. I am relieved that with a 6-8 week recovery period that Klesko should be healthy and ready to go by Spring Training, and hopefully he can return to his 2002 MVP form. Get healthy, Ryno! I cannot wait until Petco Park opens. With football season starting, the field looks bad and is hard to play on right now. Tell you what, they just put sod down at Petco and I bet that the playing surface is better than what they have at Qualcomm right now. The race is on to get out of the cellar, with the Padres only 7 games back of the Rockies and the teams going in opposite directions, it is not unthinkable. Keep the faith.

Kim Lewis can be reached at geckointhebox@yahoo.com

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