HOUSTON -- The Astros scored a combined 18 runs in two wins this week over the D-backs, seemingly back in form as the Majors' highest-scoring team. Those games ended a stretch in which Houston had lost six of seven.
But as soon as it seemed a corner was turned, the offense has again fallen upon relative hard times. Including Sunday's 3-2 loss to Oakland, the Astros have just eight runs in their past four games -- all at Minute Maid Park and all against opposing starters who entered with an ERA of above 4.50. They've gone 2-2 in those games.
"Multiple runners were a challenge for us," manager A.J. Hinch said after his club went 0-of-5 with runners in scoring position. "Big hits help, big moments help. You can break through, and things can get going. You need a couple guys in the lineup to get going in a row that can connect."
The Astros struggled mightily against A's righty Jharel Cotton in the first five innings, mustering just one run on one hit. Houston did put considerably more pressure on Cotton and Oakland's bullpen as the game moved along, but as the manager alluded to, they never had the key hit in a big moment.
"They did a really good job of keeping us pretty much in check," Hinch said. "We didn't do a lot offensively in the first part of the game. We put ourselves behind, and never really got it controlled in the bigger moments."
In the sixth, Josh Reddick popped out on an attempted double-steal by Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, leading to an easy double play to end the inning. In the seventh, after Marwin Gonzalez's 21st home run cut the deficit to one, two-out singles from Juan Centeno and Jake Marisnick put the tying and go-ahead runs on base -- only for George Springer to strike out swinging on three pitches against reliever Chris Hatcher.
And in the ninth, after a pinch-hit single from Carlos Beltran put the potential tying run on with two outs, Marisnick struck out looking on a fastball from Blake Treinen.
"We came on and put some OK at-bats together, but weren't able to get it done," said Marisnick, who was one of Houston's bright spots with a 2-for-4 day, including a double and run scored. "That's part of the game."
Treinen worked both the eighth and ninth for the A's to pick up the six-out save, and the Astros were quick to give credit to the opposing staff.
"We haven't seen either of those guys this year," Hinch said of Hatcher and Treinen. "It's a different look out of their bullpen than what we've seen in the past. The pitchers definitely have something to do with it. You have to give credit when the [other] guys beat you."
For the Astros, though, perspective is important. After going 2-6 on the preceding eight-game road trip, they are 3-2 on an eight-game homestand, including the weekend series win over Oakland.
"As far as results go, we had a good week -- a better week than the previous week," Hinch said. "But that type of stuff is reflective. We need to look forward and see where we're going."