MLB Insiders - Houston Astros

The Pirates open a three game series with Houston on Friday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Ian Snell will be on the hill for the Bucs. The Astros counter with lefty Randy Wolf.

The fading Astros look to avoid a sixth consecutive loss when they begin their final road series on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Randy Wolf (10-12, 4.58 ERA) takes the mound for the Astros, trying to bounce back from his last outing Sunday when the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter. Wolf allowed four earned runs and six hits in 2 2-3 innings of the 5-0 loss.

The left-hander, who is 4-2 in 10 starts since being acquired from San Diego, has shined against the Pirates, winning five straight decisions versus them for a 6-1 mark with a 3.64 ERA. He allowed three runs in seven innings of a 9-3 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 9.

The Pirates' counter with Ian Snell (6-11, 5.69), who looks to bounce from his last outing where he allowed five earned runs and nine hits in four innings of a 7-6 12-inning win over St. Louis on Saturday.

The right-hander, who's one loss away from tying a season high set in 2007, is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA in 11 starts against Houston and 0-1 with a 6.39 ERA in three starts versus the Astros in 2008.

Manager Cecil Cooper made it clear that his club desperately needs slumping first baseman Lance Berkman to pick it up.

"It's his team," Cooper said of Berkman, who ran his slump to 0-for-23 with an 0-for-4 night Thursday. "He's got to be the guy to lead us.

"And he's got to set the table or he's got to clean the table, one of the two. If they're not going to pitch to him, he's got to walk, take the walks and set up for somebody else. But when we do get opportunities, he's got to be the guy to deliver. He and (Miguel) Tejada, those guys have to deliver."

Berkman, who gave the Astros a 1-0 lead with an RBI groundout to second in the first inning, accepts his burden.

"I just think it's just a fact of the matter," Berkman said. "We're the guys that have been around the longest and hit in the middle of the lineup. That's just the way it is. That's about all you can say."

MARLINS 8, ASTROS 1: Alberto Arias struggled mightily while lasting only 2 2/3 innings with two runs allowed, and the Astros' offense continued its late slide.

--The Astros were the hottest team in baseball with 14 victories over 15 games before they postponed last Friday's and Saturday's scheduled games against the Cubs. Since baseball ordered them to play in Milwaukee or forfeit to the Cubs, however, they are 0-5 while being outscored 38-5.

--A week after extending their winning streak to six games to move within three games of the wild-card lead, the Astros fell five games behind the wild-card-leading New York Mets with 10 to play.

--In case Bud Selig doesn't know he's a despised figure to the Astros, a few of the players and even one coach wore black T-shirts expressing their feelings about the commissioner's order to play the Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee's Miller Park a day after Hurricane Ike hit Houston.

"We survived Ike," the back of the shirt read in red lettering atop a drawing of the radar impression of the eye of the storm. On the front, it read: "Bud killed us," over a red drawing of the commissioner's bust.

The Astros were upset at Selig's decision to force them to play the Cubs at Miller Park on Sunday and Monday while some of their friends and family dealt with Ike's aftermath.

--RHP Alberto Arias, who threw five scoreless innings Sept. 8 in his first major league start, lasted only 2 2/3 innings while giving up two runs and five hits with three walks and one hit batter in another spot start.

--RHP Roy Oswalt may start on short rest Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates to line up in case the Astros need to play Sept. 29 against the Cubs with the postseason on the line.

If the Astros are a half-game up or a half-game back of a playoff position after their Sept. 28 game against the Atlanta Braves, Oswalt would start the next day.

--LHP Wandy Rodriguez, who hasn't started since Sept. 7 because of a right oblique strain, expects to throw a simulated game Saturday even though he felt a twinge in his oblique during his 30-pitch bullpen session at Dolphin Stadium. If he returns, he might pitch out of the bullpen.

"I felt it a little bit there, but the little pain wasn't as bad as the previous days," he said. "I'll throw to hitters Saturday. If all that goes well, I'll tell them I'm ready to pitch."

--2B Kazuo Matsui was in the starting lineup for the second day in a row, but he's not expected to play nine innings for at least a few more days.

"There's no way you can send him out there for nine innings," manager Cecil Cooper said of Matsui, who pinch-hit Tuesday in his first game since an irritated disk knocked him onto the disabled list on Aug. 13.

BY THE NUMBERS: 31 1/3 -- Right-hander Roy Oswalt holds the franchise's longest consecutive scoreless innings streak with 32 1/3, breaking J.R. Richard's record of 31 consecutive scoreless innings from May 26-June 11, 1980.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're trying to be careful and mindful of our fans' safety. People in the Greater Houston area and Harris County have been encouraged to stay home. School has been canceled and we just want to do the right thing. We don't have a date now. We just wanted to let the fans know as soon as possible." -- Astros owner Drayton McLane, on weather delays in the Astros-Cubs series.

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