© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

09/11/10 6:17 PM ET

Resurgent Astros are sprinting toward finish line

The Houston Astros may be out of the race in the National League Central, but that doesn't mean they don't have their sights set on a strong finish to the season.

The Astros have been the NL's best team since Aug. 13, compiling a 19-10 record to close within eight games of .500.

The key for Houston's second-half resurgence has been the improvement of its pitching staff. The Astros' staff ERA is more than a run better since the All-Star break than it was before; consequently, the team that was 17 under .500 at the Midsummer Classic has been nine over since.

Manager Brad Mills gives a lot of the credit to pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

"No doubt, I think you're seeing the 'Arny' influence," Mills said. "Brett Myers is a big disciple [of Arnsberg]. When you get a guy like Myers, who speaks so highly of him, and he has the kind of year he's had, that helps a lot and people listen."

Arnsberg has done some of his best work with Sunday's starter Nelson Figueroa, who has posted a 2.75 ERA since being claimed by Houston on July 21. The Astros have won four of Figueroa's five starts with the team.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction, with the NL's second-worst record since the All-Star break. Los Angeles scratched Sunday's initial starter, Vicente Padilla, because of a bulging disc in his neck, with spot starter Carlos Monasterios taking his place.

Monasterios has started 11 games this season, with a 2-5 record and 5.13 ERA. The Dodgers, however, have won all four of his no-decisions, in part because Monasterios often doesn't last long enough as a starter to qualify for the win. In only five of his 11 starts has Monasterios completed five innings.

Dodgers: Gibbons enjoying new-found success
One of the second-half bright spots for the Dodgers has been the success of Jay Gibbons. Gibbons, receiving his first Major League action since 2007, had two more hits for Los Angeles on Saturday after smacking the game-winning homer in extra innings on Friday night.

Gibbons is batting .359 on the season with four homers and 12 RBIs despite starting just six times.

Astros: Pence driving force at the plate
It hasn't all been about pitching for the Astros since the All-Star break. Hunter Pence has more RBIs than any other National League player over the last two months with 42 -- or more than he had in the season's longer first half.

Pence is hitting .317 since the break with 11 homers.

Worth noting
Brett Wallace belted his second home run of the season on Saturday in the fifth inning. ... Sunday's game in Houston will be the Dodgers' last against a team from outside the NL West. ... John Lindsey made his first Major League start on Saturday, going 0-for-3. On Thursday, the 33-year-old Lindsey became the oldest non-Asian born player to debut in the Majors since Alan Zinter in 2002. ... The Pearland (Tex.) Little League team, which finished fourth in the Little League World Series, will be honored on the field prior to Sunday's afternoon contest at Minute Maid Park.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.