Given the vast difference in their respective payrolls, the Houston Astros probably didn't think they would occupy a higher spot in the standings than the Los Angeles Angels.
The Astros, though, are just above the last-place Angels, who are off to their worst start in 52 years entering Friday night's series opener in Anaheim.With a combined 213 losses in the past two seasons, the Astros were hardly expected to be competitive when they moved to the formidable AL West, and their $27 million payroll didn't give them much to work with.As likely predicted, Houston (3-6) has started slowly but did win its final two games in Seattle earlier this week. After getting outscored 37-9 during a six-game slide, the Astros earned that pair of victories by a combined 24-12 margin and totaled 38 hits.Chris Carter led the way with seven hits, three homers, and five RBIs in those games, and Marwin Gonzalez had five hits, including a homer in each victory, while raising his team-best average to .444."Even when a maybe a lot of people around the ballclub were panicking, I never saw any panic from any of those guys. We all understand the game of baseball," manager Bo Porter told the team's website. "We know it can be very streaky from an offensive standpoint. Hitting is contagious, just like the same way a few guys get into a slump it can be contagious."The Astros will try to keep streaking for a little longer against the Angels (2-7), who are experiencing their worst start since going 1-8 in their inaugural 1961 season. In contrast to the thrifty Astros, Los Angeles boasts a $142 million payroll and made another splash in free agency in the offseason by signing former Texas slugger Josh Hamilton.Los Angeles also struggled out of the gate after signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million deal before last season, dropping 14 of 20 en route to a third-place finish in the West.After batting .190 with one homer in his first 30 games last season, Pujols is hitting .300 with two home runs so far this season but went 0 for 4 in Thursday's 8-1 loss to Oakland. Hamilton had two of his team's season-low five hits to raise his average to .200.The Angels, who had 49 hits in their previous four games, have experienced more trouble lately keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Their ERA has quickly risen from 3.11 to 5.42 during their four consecutive defeats."The teams we've faced, they're really good offensive clubs. But I think everybody believes in the team we have," starting pitcher Jason Vargas said.Tommy Hanson, one of three new starting pitchers, will try to help his team begin to snap out of its funk by building on a winning debut. The right-hander gave up three runs over six innings in Saturday's 8-4 victory in Texas.The former Atlanta right-hander has plenty of experience against the Astros and most of it good. Hanson (1-0, 4.50 ERA) is 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA in six career matchups.Houston will send out Bud Norris (1-1, 3.18) to face the Angels for the first time. After winning his season debut against Texas, the right-hander gave up one run over his first five innings against Oakland on Saturday before allowing four -- three of which were unearned -- in a 6-3 defeat.Pujols is one of two Angels hitters to have faced Norris, going 5 for 26 (.192) with two doubles. Chris Iannetta is 1 for 3 against him.