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HOU@COL: Bedard strikes out four in six solid innings

If they weren't that familiar with each other before the season, the Angels and the Astros surely are now as they wrap up a four-game series in Anaheim on Monday night.

The meeting is the 10th this season between the new American League West rivals, and the outcomes haven't gone according to the script.

Expectations for the clubs couldn't have been more varied two months ago -- or even four days ago -- with the Angels' stockpile of talent expected to outmatch the rebuilding Astros.

Houston's 5-4 win Sunday only further cemented the difference between expectation and reality, as the Astros won for the sixth time in nine meetings, including the first three of the current four-game set.

"Those guys on the field are bringing it, when they're playing us, anyway," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think you can do a statistical analysis of their club and see some things that they haven't done at a very high level. But when we've played them, they've played at a high level and we need to play better. That's the bottom line."

For the Astros, their winning ways have come down to one simple improvement: starting pitching.

Houston starters have a 3.53 ERA in their past 17 games and closer Jose Veras has recorded eight saves in that span as well.

"I think that's something that just continues to build with your ballclub," said Astros manager Bo Porter. "Quality start after quality start with the next guy feeling 'OK, it's my turn.'"

Left-hander Erik Bedard will get the ball for the Astros on Monday, and he's been an integral part of that pitching surge. He's allowed two runs or fewer in his past four outings while working at least five innings each time.

His counterpart on the bump, Angels right-hander Joe Blanton, has been a hard-luck loser often this season, going 1-8 with a 5.94 ERA.

But teammates and coaches alike say those numbers don't accurately represent Blanton's performance this season.

"You feel for him. Obviously we haven't scored many runs," Albert Pujols said. "Joe pitched better than what his record shows, and everybody knows that. He doesn't complain; he works so hard. That's a guy you want the best for, because he goes out there every fifth day and gives you what he's got."

In his last start, Blanton really only made one big mistake, allowing a two-run homer to Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz in a 3-0 loss.

"I felt like I made one kind of mistake, it was almost where I wanted it," Blanton said. "The sinker in to Cruz stayed there, it didn't sink. It started in where I wanted it, it just didn't do what it's supposed to do and flattened out."

Blanton lasted seven innings and gave up three runs, but he was matched up against a dealing Hyun-Jin Ryu, who tossed a two-hit shutout.

The Astros have faced Blanton once this season, getting three runs off him in 6 2/3 innings on May 8 in a 3-1 Houston win.

Astros: Pena making big impact

On a roster full of young studs and touted talent, one veteran has established his place in the lineup lately.

First baseman Carlos Pena's big bat has spurred the Astros lately, showing some pop as a 35-year-old in his 13th Major League season.

He's notched 12 hits and four doubles while scoring five runs since May 21. He's hit safely in four straight games and six of his last seven. His late home run helped seal a win against the Rockies on May 29, and he added another one on Sunday in Anaheim. He even stole a base on Saturday against the Angels.

"Carlos has been great," Porter said. "He's going to hit his stride because he is a streaky hitter. He's a guy that can carry a ballclub.

"I feel like he's really on the cusp of breaking out and I want to keep him rolling, keep him in the lineup. I believe that if we get this guy here going, he can put the team on his back."

Angels: Rotation to be pared down

Blanton's start might be more than a typical outing. It could be an audition to remain in the starting rotation.

Though Scioscia has been adamant that he will scale back his rotation after Thursday's off-day, he hasn't decided who will be relegated back to long relief.

Blanton, Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson are the three pitchers considered on the bubble.

Williams has posted a 3.08 ERA in six starts. Blanton's numbers don't look pretty but he has been better of late. Hanson missed nearly four weeks on the restricted list but looked shaky giving up five runs (four earned) in his last start.

Worth noting

• The Astros are on a five-game winning streak for the first time since taking five straight against the Mets and Cardinals on April 30-May 5, 2012.

• The Angels haven't suffered a four-game sweep since Tampa Bay scored 37 runs in a four-game set last August. Comments