Pirates Vs. Astros: Bucs Lose National League Central Lead

The Pirates will try to solve Houston's Bud Norris at Minute Maid.

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Pirates Vs. Astros: Jose Veras Roughed Up Late In 6-4 Pittsburgh Loss

Well, that was quick.

The Pirates' stay atop the National League Central standings ended almost as quickly as it began on Saturday night when the Houston Astros tagged Pittsburgh reliever Jose Veras with three eighth inning runs to scratch out a 6-4 win and drop the Pirates back behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the division race.

The Astros got to Pirates starter Paul Maholm early, picking up a run in the second inning before receiving a two-run blast from Jeff Keppinger to earn a 3-0 advantage in the third. The Pirates came back to tie the score using the long ball, though. Neil Walker hit a solo home run in the fifth inning before Lyle Overbay and Brandon Wood followed with back-to-back solo jobs in the sixth. A Neil Walker RBI single in that same sixth gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead, which it held until the bottom of the eighth.

At that point, Jose Veras came in an immediately gave up a lead-off walk, which sparked the Astros three-run rally to take the lead. Mark Malancon came in and nailed down the Astros first save in five weeks to seal the Houston victory.

Maholm went just five innings, giving up nine hits and those three earned runs with three strikeouts and a walk. Walker was 4-5 and catcher Michael McKenry was 3-4. Their big nights were wasted, however, as Houston starter Bud Norris got out of jams in the first and second innings to keep the Pirates off the board early.

The loss drops Pittsburgh to 48-44, one game behind first place St. Louis, who defeated Cincinnati 4-1 Saturday night in the Queens City. Milwaukee, tied with the Bucs for the time being in the standings, is trailing Colorado 3-2 in the fifth at Coors' Field.


Pirates Vs. Astros: Brandon Wood In The Lineup

The Pirates have posted their lineup for this evening's game against the Astros, and Brandon Wood gets the call at third base over Josh Harrison. He will bat seventh. Last Tuesday against Houston, Wood went 2-3 with a home run, an RBI single and three RBIs in the Bucs' 5-1 victory against the 'stros at PNC Park, so he'll get another chance to show what he can do against Houston starter Bud Norris. Beyond that 5-1 win, however, Wood hasn't done much against Houston this season. He's hitting just .185 in 27 at bats. Obviously, he'll be looking to build on last week and not dwell on those paltry numbers.

Here's the rest of the Pirates' lineup tonight. Not a whole lot different than last night's beyond Wood.

Tonight's lineup; Presley 7, d'Arnaud 6, Walker 4, McCutchen 8, Jones 9, Overbay 3, Wood 5, mcKenry 2, Maholm 1less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply


Pirates Vs. Astros: Pittsburgh Looks To Hold First Place In National League Central Standings

In case you missed it, the Pirates stormed to the very top of the National League Central standings on Friday night when Jeff Karstens pitched a shutout on just 83 pitches to beat the Houston Astros 4-0 at Minute Maid Park. Andrew McCutchen had a key two-run triple in the third, and that proved to be all Karstens, who moved to third in the National League in ERA, would need.

The Bucs are now in front of the Milwaukee Brewers by a half game, and the St. Louis Cardinals by percentage points in the division standings. With a record of 48-43, this is the latest the Pirates have been atop the division since 1997.

Tonight's matchup in Houston will pit the Bucs' Paul Maholm against the Astros' Bud Norris. In seven career starts against Pittsburgh, Norris has been effective to the tune of a 3.74 ERA and whopping 52 strikeouts. Project that out to a full season of starts (roughly 35) and Norris would strike out over 350 Pirates.

The good news for the Bucs, though, is that Paul Maholm has a solid history against Houston. In 19 starts, he owns and 11-6 record with a 3.22 ERA, and in two starts against the 'stros this season, he's conceded just two earned runs in 13 innings.

In the division tonight, St. Louis will be at Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, which dropped to 15 games below .500 on the road last night, will play the second game of a set with the Colorado Rockies.

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