06/19/2002 10:38 pm ET
Astros' Miller hopes to avoid sweep
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- The Houston Astros now face a scenario that seemed impossible only three days ago. Entering Thursday's series finale in Milwaukee, they are in desperate need of a win just to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers -- yes, those same Brewers who occupy last place in the National League Central division with a 26-45 record.
At 30-40, the Astros aren't exactly striking fear in the hearts of opposing teams, either. In fact, the combination of the St. Louis Cardinals' win on Wednesday and Houston's 8-1 loss brings the Astros to two new season lows: they're 10 1/2 games out of first place and 10 games below the .500 mark. In fact, they are hanging on to fourth place by mere percentage points ahead of the Cubs, who also lost their 40th game on Wednesday.
And it's not going to get any easier. Houston has exactly one more day to take advantage of less fortunate teams before two division leaders -- the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks -- visit Houston during a six-game homestand beginning Friday.
"We have to get our act together real quick," said Jeff Bagwell. "We just need to do a better job all the way around. We don't do a lot of things right."
With three deflating losses to the Brewers now in the books, the Astros have a mere four runs to show for their brief trip to Wisconsin.
"I'm not taking anything away from the Brewers, but that being said, how long are we going to continue to do this?" Bagwell said. "Eventually, we're going to have to win some games. We can't keep doing what we're doing or we're going to be out of this by the All-Star break."
If a single glimmer of hope exists, it would have to shine in the direction of Wade Miller. The right-hander will take the mound on Thursday to attempt to serve as stopper to one of the most disappointing free-falls this year, and while it's true the Brewers have dominated the field of play so far, the fact that Miller will face them tomorrow is actually very, very good news.
Simply, Miller has all but owned the Brewers throughout his career. His lone flaw was Milwaukee's 9-3 win on Opening Day this year when his perfect 7-0 mark versus Milwaukee was tarnished slightly after the Brewers roughed him up for seven runs over four innings. Miller's lifetime ERA versus the Astros' division rival climbed to a still-respectable 3.07, but his prior dominance over them must not be ignored.
Last year, he spun a perfect 5-0 mark over Milwaukee and was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA over three starts at Miller Park, limiting the Brewers to just two earned runs over 26 innings. During that stretch, Miller ammassed 30 strikeouts against only four walks.
Miller, who despite a six-week stay on the disabled list still has the makings of a staff ace, gladly accepts the "stopper" role.
"I think I have a chance to come in here and really put a stop to it, to get something going again," he said. "You guys (media) pretty much put a trademark on me that way and if that's the way you guys want to put it, that's fine. I like going out there, stopping it and turning things around for us."
Like his teammates, Miller is frustrated with the poor results of the first three games of the series.
"Especially losing three to the Brewers -- we think we should come here and win three out of four, even sweep them, and it's the other way around," he said. "So we really need to turn it around and win tomorrow.
"There's nothing I can really do but go out there and battle my (butt) off. That's all I can do."
And usually, that's plenty. In four starts since returning from the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck, Miller is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA. What's more, the Astros have been victorious in all four of those games, including their most recent triumph -- a 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers last Saturday during which Miller combined with Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner on a three-hit shutout.
"Anytime Wade takes the mound, we feel like we have a good chance to win," Bagwell said. "I know he's pitched well against these guys in the past. It's always a good feeling to have him go out there."
Said Miller: "It doesn't matter what team I pitch against right now. We have a four-game series and we lost the first three and we have to go out and stop them in the last game. We don't want to leave here on a losing note."
As effective as Miller has been against the Brewers, if the Astros continue their scoring drought, one that has produced two runs in two games, anything short of a no-hitter may not be enough.
"We came in here and scored what, four runs in three games?" manager Jimy Williams said. "We certainly need to score some runs tomorrow for Wade Miller, too. But he has been pitching very well and hopefully he can, as they say, cough up a win for us."
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.