The Phillies have won seven straight to climb within three games of an NL Wild Card spot, and they open a four-game set Thursday in Houston against the last-place Astros.
Their recent winning streak has the Phillies above .500 for the first time since June 3, when they were 28-27. Philadelphia will call on right-hander Tyler Cloyd as it looks to continue its ascension up the standings.
Cloyd couldn't have imagined being part of a playoff push when he joined the Phillies' rotation on Aug. 29. He took the hill for his Major League debut with the Phillies seven games below .500 and 10 games out of a playoff spot.
Now he finds himself taking the mound on short rest with the Phillies in the thick of the NL Wild Card hunt. After a rainout last Saturday, Cloyd and Cole Hamels each started a game in Sunday's doubleheader.
"With my pitch count [Sunday], it shouldn't be too bad," said Cloyd, who threw 76 pitches while allowing four runs on eight hits in four innings of work. "We'll dial down the lifting and the bullpen [session]. We'll just work on little things and get ready for Thursday."
Countering Cloyd in the series opener will be Lucas Harrell, a bright spot this season for Houston.
Harrell, who had one victory in 17 career appearances entering this season, leads the Astros in both wins (10) and ERA (3.83). Though he's turned in three consecutive quality starts, he'll be looking for his first victory since Aug. 14 when he toes the rubber Thursday.
The right-hander has settled for a no-decision his past three times out, despite allowing just five combined earned runs over 20 innings of work. Harrell has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 10 of his past 11 starts, but has just three wins in that span.
"My goal when I started the season wasn't about how many wins or losses I get," Harrell said, "but it was all about giving the team a chance to win every day and [trying] to keep the game close. To be able to get as many wins as I have, I feel very fortunate."
Phillies: Frandsen nearing return
Help at third base may be on the way as soon as Thursday for the Phillies, as Kevin Frandsen is nearing a return to the starting lineup.
Frandsen, sidelined with a stress fracture in his left fibula, hasn't started since Sept. 4, though he has made two pinch-hitting appearances. Michael Martinez has started each of the past seven games at the hot corner for the Phils, but Martinez is hitting just .156 on the season.
"I think I'll be able to put him in," manager Charile Manuel said of Frandsen, who is hitting .341 in 36 games. "The trainers tell me if I play him, I can't just put him out there and let him keep playing two or three days in a row. I have to play him and rest him, see how he reacts and kind of work him in like that. I think I'll be able to get him into a game on the field, but I don't think it will be like consecutive games."
Astros: Lowrie makes long-awaited return
In his first game-action in nearly two months, Jed Lowrie went 0-for-3 with a walk in his return to the Astros' lineup Wednesday night.
Lowrie, out since July 14 with a right knee and leg injury, is still wearing a brace on his knee while he plays, but he expects to be fully healthy for Spring Training next year.
"Day on, day off until he gets his body back in shape," interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said about his plan for easing Lowrie back into the lineup. "We know what he can do and we're happy he's on the club. It gives us another Major League at-bat in there."
Lowrie was hitting .251 with 14 homers and 36 RBIs in 81 games prior to his injury.
Since the start of last season, the Astros are 0-5 against the Phillies on the road, but 2-1 against them at Minute Maid Park.
Harrell's 2.06 home ERA is second only to teammate Bud Norris (1.90) in the National League.