After two months of beatdowns, the Astros found reason to smile last week. They completed a three-game sweep against the Angels at Anaheim on Sunday, extending a season-best winning streak to five games -- as many games as they had won in their previous 18. Houston won all five on the road, sweeping two games at Colorado before making the visit to Anaheim, giving it an 11-16 record on the road (compared to 9-21 at Minute Maid Park). What's more, the Astros have won 10 of their past 17, and a pitching staff that was dismal in the first 42 games (only 11 of which Houston won) has a 3.56 ERA since May 15, fifth best in the American League, and 2.45 in the past week (second best in the AL), during which they are 6-1. Jordan Lyles has found his zone and is 2-0 with a 1.90 ERA his past four starts. Bud Norris has dominated the Angels all season (1.63 ERA), including six shutout innings in a weekend start.
Are the Dodgers hoping to copy the success that the Angels (with Mike Trout) and Nationals (with Bryce Harper) enjoyed after early-season callups of highly touted outfield prospects last year? Yasiel Puig, the 22-year-old Cuban defector signed to a $42 million contract a year ago, has been called up from Double-A Chattanooga, where he was leading the Southern League with a .313 average and had eight home runs and 37 RBIs. It's not the type of move the Dodgers like to make, having a player skip over their Triple-A affiliate, but they are in a rather desperate mode. After losing two of three at Colorado during the weekend, they are 9-17 on the road, worse than every National League team other than Miami (6-21). They share the fourth-worst record in the NL (23-32) with the Cubs. The Dodgers are 28th in the NL in runs scored. If that's not enough, in the past four days they have placed center fielder Matt Kemp (hamstring strain) and catcher A.J. Ellis (ribcage strain) on the disabled list. Left fielder Carl Crawford came out of Saturday's game with hamstring soreness. That left Andre Ethier as the only healthy outfielder on the roster, which led to the decision to push Puig, who hit .517 in Spring Training. Oh, and lefty Hyun-Jim Ryu had to be scratched from his Sunday start at Coors Field because of lingering soreness in his left foot, which was struck by a line drive in his start against the Angels last Tuesday.
The Cards have taken a steady approach to the top of the NL Central. St. Louis has lost only two series all season, dropping two of three to Arizona to open the season and two of three against Pittsburgh on April 26-28. The Redbirds have won nine of their past 12 thanks to a rotation that is a combined 7-1 with a best-in-baseball 2.08 ERA during that stretch. Tyler Lyons' 2.66 ERA is the highest of the five starters in that stretch, which included the big league debut of Michael Wacha, the team's first-round Draft pick last year. Though he allowed only one run in seven innings, Wacha had a no-decision in a 4-2 loss at Kansas City on May 30. Adam Wainwright reaffirmed his status as the ace by going 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his last three starts and Edward Mujica ran his late-inning perfection to 17 of 17 in saves by converting four in the 12-game stretch. The Cardinals led the NL with 64 runs scored in those 12 games, with Daniel Descalso providing the biggest hits, driving in a team-best 11 runs.
As if the loss of Roy Halladay isn't concerning enough, the Phils are trying to cope with the inability of lefty Cole Hamels to even be competitive. He is not only 1-9 for the season, but in the four weeks since the loss of Halladay, he is 0-5. Hamels has taken as many losses since Halladay was sidelined as the rest of the rotation combined, and he's won nine fewer games. On Friday, Hamels allowed seven runs (six earned) in five innings of an 8-5 loss to Milwaukee. And don't forget he gave up eight runs against Kansas City in his second start this season, the third-highest run total he has ever allowed, and the most runs he has given up in a start since Atlanta scored nine off him on July 26, 2008. Hamels and Halladay are making a combined $39.5 million this year, but at least this is the last year of Halladay's guaranteed deal. It's the first year of a six-year, $144 contract extension the Phillies gave Hamels in July, which didn't seem like a bad idea at the time. Hamels was 31-15 with a 2.92 ERA the past two seasons, and he won his final seven decisions last year over a 10-start stretch in which the Phils were 9-1.
The A's are getting a head start on their charge toward the top in the AL West this time around. They have won 14 of their past 16 games and cut their deficit to division-leading Texas from seven games to two by sweeping four series, splitting a two-game visit to San Francisco and winning two out of three at Texas. Oakland's rotation went 10-2 during those 16 games. Bartolo Colon five-hit the White Sox on Friday, becoming the first 40-something to pitch a complete-game shutout at the Coliseum since Don Sutton in 1985. The White Sox managed only three runs (all in a 4-3, 10-inning loss on Saturday) while being swept by the A's. Colon, who turned 40 on May 24, extended his streak of scoreless innings to 18.
Down: White Sox
Hey, at least it's been a team effort. Fresh off a sweep of Miami, the White Sox went 0-for-6 last week, losing three games to the Cubs and then getting swept in Oakland. How bad was it? The rotation had a 5.29 ERA. The bullpen had a worst-in-baseball 6.38 ERA. The White Sox hit for the lowest average (.193) and scored the fewer runs (nine) in the big leagues last week. They drew only nine walks, fewest in the AL, and among the 30 Major League teams, only the Sox did not hit a home run. Only three players even hit better than .240 -- Jeff Keppinger (.389), Paul Konerko (.273) and Alejandro De Aza (.261). De Aza produced six of the team's nine runs (four RBIs and two runs scored). Dayan Viciedo had only one hit in 21 at-bats, while striking out 10 times.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.