Phils host Astros to close out homestand

Placido Polanco enters the series one hit shy of 2,000 for his career. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)

For one final time, the Houston Astros are coming to Philadelphia as a National League team. As part of the changes made to baseball's CBA in the offseason, one is that the Houston Astros will move to the American League in 2013. That makes this the last visit that the Astros will make to Citizens Bank Park.

Thank goodness, because the Astros have been a thorn in the Phillies' side in years past. If you take away their sweep of the Astros to open the season last year, the Phillies are 13-18 since their NL East reign started in 2007.

But now the playing levels have evened…for now anyway. The Astros enter the brief series coming off a 12-inning loss to the Pirates that lowered their record to 15-19. The Phillies are just a half-game ahead with a 16-19 record.

So this is not your traditional matchup, but the Astros come in with a similar group as in years past. Carlos Lee is still the power bat of the lineup, but has moved from left field to first base. However, the Astros, despite their record, have a few formidable bats in the lineup. Leading in average is second baseman Jose Altuve with a .323 average. The top run producers include shortstop Jed Lowrie, left fielder J.D. Martinez and third baseman Chris Johnson. Lowrie and Johnson are tied for the team lead with four home runs and Martinez has a team-leading 20 RBIs.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Joe Blanton (3-3, 3.24 ERA) takes on Lucas Harrell (2-2, 4.58 ERA) - Blanton took a no-decision in his last start, allowing four runs over 6 2/3 to the Mets in an eventual 7-4 loss for the Phillies. Blanton exited with the lead, but watched it vanish as the bullpen took over. In his career against the Astros (four games, three starts), Blanton is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

Harrell took a no-decision in his last start, allowing three runs (two earned) over 5 1/3 innings to the Marlins in a 5-3 loss for the Astros. Aside from Harrell's two wins on the season, the Astros have lost every game he has started. Harrell has also allowed at least three runs in all but two of his seven starts this season. Harrell has never faced the Phillies in his career.

In the finale, Cliff Lee (0-1, 2.17 ERA) gets the start for the Phillies. The Astros have yet to announce a starter. – Lee took a no-decision in his last start in his return from the DL, allowing two runs in six innings to the Mets in a game the Phillies lost 10-6. Lee is still winless so far this season despite having the best ERA of any starter in the Phillies' rotation. In his career against the Astros (three starts), Lee is 1-2 with a 6.89 ERA.

Prediction:
May 14 – Phillies 2, Astros 4
May 15 – Phillies 4, Astros 1

With the Phillies trying to put together a winning streak, they have the potential to do it against the Astros. However, facing a pitcher they have never seen before doesn't bode well for this offense. In that case, despite an excellent start to the season from Blanton, I expect the Astros to take the opener.

There has never been a drought quite like the one Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are on for these Phillies. In that case, it's time that the Phillies broke out of that slump. Sometimes pitchers like Lee and Halladay can win their own ballgame. Lee, still winless on the season, could go out and win his own ballgame any day. I think Tuesday afternoon is finally that day.

The Phillies will travel to Chicago to face the Cubs in another quick two-game series before returning home for their first interleague series of 2012 against the Boston Red Sox.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.