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Sosa tallies first win with stellar start

The Astros may not be playing in a pennant race, but they feel like they're playing for something bigger -- namely, the future of the franchise. Houston has seen several rookies thrive in the second half, and they'll get another chance to make a fast impression Tuesday against Pittsburgh.

The Astros own the largest deficit from first place (36 games) in baseball, and they appear to be on pace for the first 100-loss season in franchise history. But if you ask veteran Carlos Lee, there's nothing but optimism attached to the play of rookies like Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez.

"That's in the past," said Lee of the team's struggles. "We've got a team with a lot of young guys and we're having fun. These kids go out there and are afraid of nothing. We're playing pretty good baseball [the last week]. Every game, we felt we played good enough to get better results."

Houston got that badly needed result in Monday's opener against the Pirates, but Pittsburgh has still won nine of the first 13 games played between the teams this season. Altuve had three hits, an RBI and a run in the 7-4 victory, and Martinez went 1-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.

The Pirates, meanwhile, are working through a difficult stretch of adversity. Pittsburgh has gone 4-9 in its last 13 games and is 11-28 since reaching a season-best seven games over .500 on July 19. The Pirates are 10 games under .500 but stand 17 games ahead of last year's pace (45-89).

Pittsburgh will send promising right-hander Charlie Morton to the mound on Tuesday, and he'll be matched against rookie Henry Sosa. Morton, who posted a 2.06 ERA in May, has been almost as good in August (2.20) and owns a 6-2 record and a 2.45 ERA against division rivals this season.

Sosa, meanwhile, is coming off the first win of his big league career. The right-hander has made five starts for Houston, and he was 6-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 10 Minor League starts prior to his promotion.

Pirates: McCutchen thriving in No. 3 hole
Don't look now, but Andrew McCutchen is surging through the tape.

Pittsburgh's center fielder homered and drove in two runs Monday, and he's managed to knock home at least one run in four straight and in five of his last six games.

McCutchen is hitting .309 (67-for-217) as the club's No. 3 hitter, and he's managed to distinguish himself on the national stage. McCutchen, who finished fourth in last year's National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting, ranks fifth among big league center fielders in RBIs (136) since the start of 2010.

Astros: Martinez on a tear
Martinez burst on the scene in his first two weeks as a big leaguer by becoming the first member of the Astros -- and the fifth player all-time -- to have four home runs and 12 RBIs in his first 10 games. And he didn't stop there. Martinez, in fact, ranks third in the NL with 24 RBIs in August.

Martinez, a 20th-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, was batting .338 for Double-A Corpus Christi at the time of his promotion. Martinez has started 26 of the last 27 games for the Astros, and he's batting .351 (13-for-37) with four extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his last nine games.

Worth noting
Houston has never lost more than 97 games, a franchise mark it has matched three times. The Astros last lost 97 games in 1991, and they also did it in 1975 and 1965. ... Pittsburgh has 84 extra-base hits in August, third most among NL teams. ... The Pirates have lost seven of their last eight road games. ... The Pirates have scored 78 first-inning runs, fifth among NL teams. Comments