In barely a week, the Houston Astros have gone from the team with the longest win streak in the majors to a team suffering through its worst losing streak in nearly two years.
The slumping Astros look to avoid their eighth straight loss when they host the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle contest of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.
Houston (9-13) had a five-game win streak snapped in Milwaukee last Saturday. Since then, the Astros have lost six more times to matching their seven-game skid from May 2005.
Houston has not lost eight in a row since May 2001.
The road doesn’t appear easier for the Astros Saturday, when they face a pitcher who has dominated them recently.
Dave Bush (2-1, 5.04 ERA) will be making his second straight start against the Astros. He gave up three runs and five hits in eight-plus strong innings against them Sunday, earning the win as the Brewers (14-8) defeated Houston 4-3.
Before the ninth inning of that contest, the right-hander had pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings against the Astros.
Milwaukee starter Chris Capuano stopped the Houston offense in Friday’s series opener. The Astros managed only six hits in the 4-1 loss, their third straight against Milwaukee. Houston has never lost four in a row to the Brewers.
“We haven’t been able to come up with the big hits,” said Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who is off to an 18-for-77 (.234) start. “This is not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last. It’s just one of those funks in the season.”
After Milwaukee tied the game at one in the seventh inning, J.J. Hardy hit a two-run double with two outs to lead the Brewers to their fifth win in six games.
“You keep putting pressure on and you hope, sooner or later, you’re going to push one across,” said Hardy, who is batting .412 (7-for-17) with seven RBIs in four games against Houston this season. “We were finally able to do that.”
The Astros hope one of their top prospects can help end their offensive struggles when he joins the team on Saturday. Houston called up outfielder Hunter Pence from Triple-A Round Rock after Friday’s loss, and the 24-year-old will start in center field in place of the struggling Chris Burke.
Pence was batting .341 with three home runs and 19 RBIs in 22 games with the Round Rock Express. He went 16-for-28 (.647) with two home runs and nine RBIs in 19 spring training games with the Astros.
“We’ve got to find a way to get the offense going,” general manager Tim Purpura said. “We’re getting hits, but we’re not driving in runs. That’s certainly a lot to ask of a young player, but all reports from Round Rock are that he’s doing great.”
Chris Sampson (2-1, 4.26) will start for Houston. Sampson opened the season strong, but allowed seven runs and 14 hits in four innings of Houston’s 11-4 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.
The right-hander will be making his first career start against the Brewers. He allowed one run and two hits in one two-inning relief appearance against them last year.