HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman looked at the throng of reporters waiting for him at his locker Monday at Minute Maid Park and was reminded that there is a price to pay for success.

"This is way more stressful than what I did the first two months of last year," Berkman said, referring to his .230 average through May 2007. "Even my dad says, 'Oh, yeah, he can hit .400."

Berkman may have the only level-headed view of what he's accomplished lately. Fans are buzzing, his teammates are marveling and reporters are speculating about what could be. Berkman, with his quick wit and self-deprecating humor, knows how to put things in perspective.

That's a good thing, considering when he began the Astros' homestand Monday he had a .399 average, 16 homers, 44 RBIs and 17-game hitting streak. Just a few hours later, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in a loss to the Cubs, dropping his season average to a "paltry" .389.

Still, the season Berkman has had so far has been nothing short of historic. Consider:

• He's the second player since 1957 to record a 31-for-50 streak, joining Pete Rose, who did so with the Phillies in 1979.

• There have been 10 instances since '57 of players recording 21 hits in 30 at-bats. Berkman recorded six of these 10 in an 11-day span from May 2-13. He also set the club record with 18 hits in a five-game span.

• He hit .545 over his 17-game hitting streak, with eight homers, 21 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

"I didn't know he was the greatest hitter in the history of baseball until this guy showed up for the last month or so," general manager Ed Wade deadpanned. "I told someone the other day, it's like watching a guy play big league baseball, only he's playing T-ball. That's how easy he's making it. You know how difficult this game is, and he's simplified it to the Nth degree."

Berkman showed on Monday that he indeed is human, which the Cubs were apparently counting on when they pitched to him Monday night.

"There are very few hitters who instill fear in pitchers," Berkman reasoned before the game. "There may be only one in our league now [Albert Pujols]. The key is to be just bad enough to where they think, 'Oh, I can get this guy out.' And then, you might get a pitch to hit."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Chris Sampson (2-3, 6.46 ERA)
Sampson struggled in his last outing against the Giants on Thursday, yielding seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits over six innings. It was a step back from his previous start, when he induced nine groundball outs over seven shutout frames against the Dodgers. Sampson faced the Cubs in his first start of the season on April 4 at Wrigley Field, taking a no-decision after allowing two runs over six frames.

CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (5-1, 2.35 ERA)
Dempster struck out a career-high 12 batters in his last outing against the Padres and nearly posted a complete-game shutout. It was the first time he's pitched in the ninth inning since his days as a closer at the end of last season. The right-hander gave up six hits over 8 1/3 innings in his longest outing of the season. The Cubs now are 7-2 when Dempster starts.

Tidbits
Wandy Rodriguez may have to make only one rehab start before rejoining the Astros' rotation. The lefty will pitch for Double-A Corpus Christi on Thursday, and Wade is hopeful he'll throw between 80-90 pitches. "If he gets to that, we envision him being back here," Wade said. "Physically, there's no longer an issue regarding the groin injury. It's just a case of getting him in a game environment." ... Right-hander Roy Oswalt was examined by team medical director David Lintner on Monday and was given a clean bill of health. He'll start Thursday against the Phillies. ... The Astros are hitting .297 during games they win and averaging 6.3 runs per game.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Astros (Shawn Chacon, 0-0, 4.14) vs. Cubs (Sean Gallagher, 1-0, 4.40), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 4-4, 5.43) vs. Phillies (Kyle Kendrick, 3-2, 4.76), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Friday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 3-5, 4.58) vs. Phillies (Adam Eaton, 0-2, 5.59), 7:05 p.m. CT