Many figured the rebuilding Houston Astros would experience their share of problems as they made the transition to the AL West, but few could've thought the talent-rich Los Angeles Angels would endure similar struggles.
Lucas Harrell looks to pitch Houston to a three-game sweep of disappointing Los Angeles, which hopes to get another solid performance from Jason Vargas on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
It comes as little surprise the inexperienced Astros (10-24) possess the league's worst record during their first AL season, but their back-to-back wins over the struggling Angels (11-22) have them close to climbing out of the division cellar.
Chris Carter hit a three-run homer to help Houston earn a 7-6 victory in Tuesday's series opener, then he hit a solo shot in the fifth inning Wednesday in a 3-1 win. He's hitting .353 with five homers in his last 10 games versus the Angels.
Houston has won three of five meetings with Los Angeles and will look to earn the sweep with help from Harrell (3-3, 5.03 ERA), who hopes to bounce back from a dismal outing.
Harrell had been one of the few bright spots for the Astros winning his previous three starts while posting a 1.89 ERA, but his hot stretch ended when he gave up eight runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 17-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
It marked the second time he's allowed eight runs this season, but the right-hander hasn't given up more than two in any of his other five outings.
``I'm really not all that mad about it,' Harrell said after that contest. ``I made some good, quality pitches.'
Harrell was in line for the victory when he left after giving up one run and striking out five in 5 2-3 innings against the Angels on April 13, but the Houston bullpen allowed four runs over the final two frames in a 5-4 loss.
Josh Hamilton homered off Harrell in that contest, did so again the following day and hit another long ball Wednesday. Still, after signing a five-year, $125 million contract in the offseason to join a lineup featuring Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and 2012 AL rookie of the year Mike Trout, Hamilton is hitting just .205. Each of his three homers and half of his 10 RBIs have come versus the Astros.
Los Angeles has lost four straight and is 4-13 on the road.
``When we're not doing enough offensively, it comes down to getting breaks, and they haven't been falling our way,' manager Mike Scioscia said. ``You have to create your own breaks, your own momentum and your own margin of error, and that all comes on doing things on a more consistent basis.'
The Angels will look to get back on track with help from Vargas, who has bounced back from a rough start to post a 1.88 ERA over his last three outings.
Vargas (1-3, 3.72) has tossed back-to-back complete games including the third shutout of his career Friday, giving up three hits in a 4-0 win over Baltimore.
"There's no doubt that he's throwing more strikes," Scioscia told the team's official website. "I think he's not letting counts get as deep, and when he has a chance to put hitters away, he's making a pitch."
The left-hander has made only one career start versus Houston, giving up three runs in five innings of a 4-1 loss as a rookie with Marlins on Aug. 15, 2005. Vargas, though, has had plenty of success against Carter (0 for 10, five strikeouts) and Carlos Pena (1 for 11).
The Associated Press News Service
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